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Candidate John Shilts seeks techology advances for sheriff's department

St. Croix County Sheriff candidate John Shilts

A bet against John Shilts becoming the new sheriff of St. Croix County is a bad idea ... because he's running unopposed.

With the stage set, Shilts, 49, has had some time to think about changes and improvements he would like to see in the department.

"If we can keep deputies on the street, it will prolong the need to hire more," said Shilts in a recent conversation in his government center office.

Shilts wants to install a software system called Coplogic which would allow victims of smaller crimes -- damaged property, hit and run, harassing phone calls and lost property -- to file a report with department on line.

His bid for the system with a $10,000 initial cost and $7,000 annual fee to maintain a host site didn't make it into his budget for 2011 but he sees it as a cost and time saver for the future.

"To handle these calls it usually involves a deputy and a clerk and costs the department $26.22 each," Shilts said.

For a two-year period, 2008 and 2009, the sheriff's department handled 433 thefts, 336 damage to property and 79 other cases at an estimated cost of $11,116 each year that could be handled with the software system, Shilts said.

The system would help in the mission to keep deputies on patrol longer and spend less time filling out reports during each shift.

"We have to be pro-active and think outside the box," Shilts said with a goal of keeping officers on the beat for at least half the time of their shift.

He never thought about running for the office until early this year when current Sheriff Dennis Hillstead formally announced he would retire after his term ends in January.

Shilts, a New Richmond native, started as a part-time law officer in his home town. He came up through the ranks in the sheriff's office starting in the jail in 1987, then moved to patrol, drug investigations, patrol sergeant, patrol captain and is currently chief deputy.

He is familiar to the troops and that may be an advantage. "I think they know exactly what I expect," Shilts said, which should make a more comfortable transition for the new boss.

Shilts said things have improved under the 12-year reign of Hillstead, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Tommy Thompson following the death of Paul Burch.

"When he came here there was kind of a 'Good Old Boy system' in place. Now it is more organized and structured with defined policies," he said.

Shilts said he is comfortable with macro managing the department. "I know where I want to go and what to do. I have to pick the right people to do it," he said.

Some ideas he is working on when he takes over the helm include:

  • Developing Explorer Scouts groups to help with special events to reduce overtime for deputies.
  • Forming a crime scene response group with adjacent counties of deputies trained in forensics. "The technology is expensive and if we share equipment and manpower it would ease the costs," he said. The department already owns an old military ambulance used for St. Croix County's team.
  • Updating the department website and creating neighborhood interaction sites that could keep residents posted on incidents such as burglaries or property damage.

    Election day is Nov. 2. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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