Sturgeon Bay police chief reflects on changes as a 40-year career ends

Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 5:32 PM CDT
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STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - It’s the end of an era in Sturgeon Bay. The city’s police chief will hand in his badge Friday after a 40-year career.

He sat down with us to talk about his career, building relationships with the community, and the future of policing.

“It’s going to be strange,” says Sturgeon Bay Police Chief Arleigh Porter, pausing. “It’ll be an adjustment, but I’ve been preparing myself for quite awhile.”

Friday Porter begins a new chapter, closing the book on the one he opened four decades ago when he found himself intrigued by a life in public safety.

“On June 28th of 1980, after having been a paramedic for three-and-a-half years in Door County, I switched over to law enforcement to the Sturgeon Bay Police Department,” he recalls. “When we worked our paramedic schedule, we were allowed to ride along with city police while they were on patrol, and I did that frequently and just developed an interest in it. It was not my career path.”

Porter quickly became the first assigned detective the city’s police department ever had.

A few years later, he began working a case that’s still not seen its final day in court: the disappearance of Carol Jean Pierce.

Her then-husband Richard Pierce is awaiting trial on murder charges.

“No computer of any kind was out then to help us in the investigative efforts, so there were a lot of challenges that led to it going cool. We never forgot about it. We’ve never forgotten about Carol Jean Pierce,” says Porter, adding that’s been the most challenging case he and retired partner Lt. Tom Baudhuin have ever worked.

The two, along with a team of other investigators and prosecutors, never gave up.

Porter says that case, and so many others, demonstrate just how much policing has evolved.

“Training. Training has changed phenomenally for the better,” he says.

What hasn’t changed, and he hopes never will, is a gift he believes every officer must possess.

“The ability to talk to people. You can’t do it with this,” he says, motioning to a cell phone, “or the computer. Good police officers have got to be able to talk with people. We’re great at applying terms to it. De-escalation. What is de-escalation? It’s talking, isn’t it? That’s what we look at when we try to hire our newest officers is do they have that gift, because it’s a dying gift with texting, computer, email. Talk.”

Porter is proud to see his officers work with the community, trying to build good relationships in a time where that’s nearly impossible in some cities.

“The appreciation that we’ve had since, let’s just say it, since Minneapolis, has been so phenomenally supportive here that it really makes you feel good about law enforcement in the city and Door County,” he says.

He is concerned, though, about a big change that’s happened slowly, yet so drastically, it’s applied extreme pressure to law enforcement.

“Meth, mental health and the money to support or sustain the police department’s efforts in these challenging budget times for every community. We’re not the fix-all for society, and part of it is... who do you call when you need help, especially after normal business hours? You end up calling the police,” the chief says. “Our resources are very thin in terms of helping people in crisis. Officers figure it out, but we can’t be the fix-all, end-all for society, and that’s kind of what it’s evolved into.”

Porter says he is and always has been proud of his officers for handling those tough situations and always being there to serve the community.

Now, he’ll hand over the reigns to the new chief, Clint Henry, trading in his squad car for an RV.

He says it’ll take him a while to disconnect, but he’s looking forward to beginning life’s next adventure.

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