By Dave Fidlin
With the incumbent police chief’s retirement just weeks away, Town of Waterford officials have set in motion a succession plan for its next leader.
Matt Johnson, a sergeant with the town’s police force, has been tapped to lead the department in the new year after Police Chief Tom Ditscheit steps down Jan. 1.
Johnson will not carry the title of police chief – at least not yet. Town officials have promoted him to the position of captain as part of a 6-month probationary period. Midway through the year, Johnson could formally assume Ditscheit’s current title.
Since 1993, Johnson has served on the Waterford police force through a variety of capacities and is not a stranger to leading the department. Johnson was the interim chief about a decade ago before Ditscheit was named to the position. Johnson was promoted from police officer to sergeant in 2007.
Johnson also has served on the Town of Norway Police Department on a part-time basis since the early 1990s.
“I look forward to working with you and your community,” Johnson said Dec. 12 as he discussed his new role with the Waterford Village Board. The village contracts public safety services from the town.
Johnson’s introduction to the Village Board was part of a larger picture discussion of Ditscheit’s imminent exit and the village’s 2016 police budget.
Town Chairman Tom Hincz said he is confident Johnson will be an effective leader, moving forward. But he also praised Ditscheit for his leadership the past nine years.
“There were some issues that got cleaned up,” Hincz said of Ditscheit’s leadership. “We have an extremely strong, intelligent department today.”
As for Johnson, Hincz said his formal contract should be drawn up before Christmas, noting that there are “a few T’s to cross and I’s to dot” in the document.
For the village, Ditscheit’s retirement in January marks one of two milestones. At the beginning of 2016, the village unwound its longstanding contractual relationship with the Racine County Sheriff’s Department for exclusive policing services, opting instead to enter into an agreement with the town.
The village’s decision midway through 2015 was controversial, but with nearly one year notched, town and village officials say it has been a fruitful arrangement that has indeed yielded meaningful cost savings.
“I think it’s amazing the town and the village are working together,” Hincz said in his address to the Village Board on Monday. “I hope we can do more of this in the future.”
Final figures for the village’s 2016 police contract will be certified in February when the municipal clerks in the town and village go through the numbers and certify the figures.
Tentatively, several village and town officials this week said the town’s contract is set to come in under budget as 2016 comes to a close.
Trustee Jim Schneider, who serves on the village’s Finance Committee, said current figures have indicated the municipality stands to pay $62,000 less by the end of the year than it would have if it had taken the sheriff’s department up on its 2016 contractual offer.