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Preston calling it a career

Entire professional life spent as Thiensville police officer

Feb. 15, 2012

Thiensville - March 13 is an important date in Thiensville Police Chief Richard Preston's life - and not just because it's his birthday.

Preston, who turns 60 next month, is not only entering a new milestone, age-wise, he is entering a new chapter in his life. When he celebrates his birthday, he also will be retiring from a police force he has called home for nearly four decades.

Thirty-nine years ago - March 13, 1973 - Preston became one of Thiensville's finest as he joined the ranks on his 21st birthday as a patrol officer. As it turned out, Preston's entire law enforcement career would be in Thiensville. He was promoted to sergeant in 1981. Ten years later, he took the helm of the department and held the position more than 20 years.

"This is a neat little community that's actually changed quite a bit," Preston said as he reflects on his career. "But one thing's always remained the same: We try and offer the personal service that residents value. That's why people like this community."

As with departments across the country, Thiensville law enforcement personnel conduct business much differently than they did when Preston started his career. Like many professions, technology is part of the reason for the changes.

Preston remembers a time when he was working off a two-way police radio in his squad car.

"It was clunky and ineffective," Preston said. "With computers, we've been able to access a lot more information and in a more timely manner."

The way police respond to incidents also has changed considerably from Preston's early days. With a gun and baton as the only gear, Preston described some altercations as "knuckle-to-knuckle." With new equipment, including Tasers, Preston said police are able to deal with instances more effectively with less incident.

"We have all the same crimes that take place anywhere else, including Milwaukee," Preston said. "Luckily, they're just not as often. We've always managed to get the job done with the resources we've had."

Two memories stand out

Looking back on the past 39 years, Preston said he is flooded with memories. Two particular instances - one good, one tragic - come to his mind as he reflects on law enforcement in Thiensville.

While it is usually characterized as a sleepy, bedroom type of community, the village was transformed in 2003 as it played a pivotal part of Harley-Davidson's centennial celebration. One of the local dealerships, Suburban Motors, is located within Thiensville.

"Main Street was a sea of people; it was literally wall-to-wall activity," Preston said. "There were some concerns about how everything would go, but there really weren't any incidents. I think that changed most of the minds of people in this community."

Perhaps the most horrific incident occurred early in Preston's career. An armed robbery in 1979 that began in Thiensville eventually resulted in the fatal shooting of Thomas Buntrock, at the time Mequon's Police Chief. An officer accidentally shot Buntrock during a hostage situation with the robber when Buntrock was mistaken as the offender.

"It's one of those events you just never forget," Preston said.

Preston said he knows it is time to move forward in the next chapter of his life, though it still is a bittersweet occasion.

Tuning up his golf game

"I think that for at least the first six months I'll take time off and do what I enjoy: golfing and possibly some traveling," Preston said. "After that, who knows?"

Throughout his career, Preston said he has been grateful for the support from the Village Board, residents and the business community.

"I'll definitely miss the joint when I go," he said. "That is certain."

A search for Preston's successor is under way. Village Administrator Dianne Robertson said a committee that includes Village President Karl Hertz and police chiefs from neighboring municipalities is currently looking at prospective candidates and reviewing the types of qualifications and training sought for the position.

PRESTON TIMELINE

1973 -joins Thiensville Police Department as patrol officer

1981 - promoted to sergeant

1991 - promoted to chief

2012 - retires

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