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Great Kilt Challenge to Benefit New Richmond K-9

First and foremost, Police Chief Craig Yehlik, understands the duty of his department is to serve and protect all citizens of New Richmond. To be successful, he knows he and his officers must build a healthy relationship with community members. Officers need to be perceived as people too, to be accessible and approachable by all community members. He wants citizens to feel comfortable around his officers, to appreciate they are allies, not enemies.

"We've worked really hard for the last year plus at getting our officers in front of people. We want the community to know us. When we walk down the street, we want folks to walk up to us and say "Hey Craig or Hey Veronica," and to be able to talk with us like community members, like neighbors, and to work on solving problems together. We take pride in what we do and want people to know who we are and feel comfortable calling us no matter what the situation," Yehlik said.

Yehlik also believes in leading by example. When an opportunity arose to humanize the force by embracing a little humiliation for a great cause, he agreed to trade in his pants for a kilt, at least for a week.

"It kind of started as a tongue-in-cheek silly thing. I said to Lt. Veronica Koehler, who's been doing a great job fundraising for the new K-9 addition to our department, "If you can reach our $50,000 goal, I'll wear a tactical kilt for one week and one special event," Yehlik said.

As these kind of silly, offhand offers often do, it started to gain traction in certain circles around city hall where more and more folks thought seeing what kind of knees the chief has is a swell idea, especially if it will encourage more folks to donate toward the K-9 program, and the deal was struck.

Koehler is hoping that the one special event will be Fun Fest, which starts Thursday, July 13. The department needs to raise $50,000 or more to fund a K-9 unit. The money is needed to pay for a specially equipped squad car ($25,000), the dog that is bred in Europe ($8,500), building a kennel at the station, as well as training, certification and additional equipment. The department is also anticipating annual costs of $5,000-$7,000 for food and veterinary care.

Initially, Yehlik and Koehler had targeted the program to get started in 2018, but because more than $35,000 has already been raised, getting it started this year is a real possibility if the community can rally and raise the remaining funds.

"Everybody in this department is excited about the possibility of having a K-9 team. The people who live in and around the City of New Richmond are also excited and have been very, very generous. We've had everything from 6- and 7-year-old kids walk through our door and hand us a dollar to some pretty substantial donations from businesses and community members. Every dollar is important," Yehlik said.

If community members can somehow come up with the funds between now and Fun Fest, everyone would be treated to the vision of Yehlik showing off his knees while doing his job for a week in a kilt.

"The first time I saw a tactical kilt was back in 2009 and it was designed as a fundraising tool. There was a group of chiefs that said they would wear them if so much money were raised for a particular cause. Since then, I've seen administrators wear kilts at different police training functions. It's one of those things that seems to be catching on and if you read the reviews, the people that wear them, seem to like them," said a smiling Yehlik.

Yehlik feels the timing is right to introduce the kilt challenge to draw attention to a very important program on the verge of getting started in his department.

"That's what we're using it for, as a fun way to bring attention to our cause, as kind of an incentive to encourage people to donate to the K-9 program here in New Richmond. We're trying to raise the awareness of the K-9 unit and to humanize our police department at the same time. We like to have fun too. We're people just like everyone else in the community and we're humbled to have this opportunity. If it takes wearing a kilt to say thank you to the community for stepping up to the plate and getting this thing done, it's a small price to pay. I think our city administrator and mayor are pretty excited to see the police chief in a kilt," Yehlik said.

The chief is currently researching appropriate sock and shoe attire. He is leaning toward duty boots, however he is open to suggestions for socks.