As times change, Beatrice police remains community constant

November 30, 2018
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A photo from the Gage County Historical Society shows some of the earliest officers of the Beatrice Police Department. The department has evolved over the years meet the demands of fast-changing technology.

Many years ago, call boxes were scattered throughout Beatrice. Citizens used them to report fires or call for emergency assistance with the police department.

“If there was a light on above the box, the police officer would respond to the emergency,” said Beatrice Police Chief Bruce Lang.

Now, those boxes are a thing of the past with the rise of cellphones. As technology changes, so too, does the Beatrice Police Department.

But its storied history shows that as the police department has grown over the years, it has always remained a constant in the community.

“The Beatrice Police Department, just like the city, is old and has a rich history beginning at the turn of the century,” Lang said. “At one point, there were a lot of German immigrants. They petitioned the city to have a German officer. I’m sure they were not as politically correct as some of the conversations we would have today,” said Lang. “But they hired a German police officer.”

Lang came to Beatrice in 1992, when the police was stationed in the city auditorium where the Main Street Beatrice office is now.

“Dispatch and all the officers were in that space,” Lang said.

Since Beatrice’s population has stayed consistent over the years, the number of officers has not changed, but a number of changes with technology and training have occurred.

“I was the accreditation officer at my previous department and so when I came in 1992, they had good procedures, but not many of the policies were written down,” Lang said. “It was not uncommon that departments relied on a rule by memo.”

Soon, however, BPD became accredited with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Lang said, bring the department up to speed technologically.

In late 1994, BPD moved to its current building at Fifth and Ella Streets, which had previously been the American Charter building when the City bought it.

“There were literally semi loads of paper in the basement,” Lang said. “Pipes had burst and there was mold. It was a mess. The building was set up for a bank not a city government building, but we have not had to change a lot of infrastructure. We really like this facility.”

The dispatch area was soon consolidated with the Gage County Sheriff’s Office and Wymore dispatch, which made it more user-friendly, according to Lang.

BPD switched over to computers around that time, which streamlined police reports.

Currently, all patrol cars have computers and are linked to the station’s computer system. Information can be passed through the computers, such as histories and critical information before officers arrive to a call.

“Our expectations have evolved,” said Lang. “The biggest changes have been in the level of sophistication and education level of officers as they join the department. The training they receive is different than 25 years ago. We would have them ride around for a couple days with a veteran officer before we would throw them the keys and say ‘stay out of trouble.’”

Now, there are 14 weeks of basic training for all new officers.

The dispatch center has continued to evolve, as well, shifting over to a regional center. Trained staff dispatch for 18 fire and rescue departments and five law enforcement agencies.

“There has been a change in the culture of the police department,” Lang said. “People that we hire today do not live, eat and breathe this. They like it and they’re good employees, but when I started the only friends you had were other policemen. We all spent time with each other’s families. I don’t know that this change is always a bad thing.

“We have a diverse organization in that we try to hire for areas of interest and for the employee’s strength,” Lang continued. “It’s my job to be sure that everyone understands that all those positions have value. The SWAT guys may not see value of (a) social-service type of officer, but we need both,” said Lang.

Lang said he sees ebbs and flows in drug problems, with methamphetamine issues being at the center of the police’s work.

In the early 2000s, BPD did a lot of education in the schools and community to deal with drug problems, Lang said.

“But we’re dealing with it again,” he said. “What is most frustrating is the cost to the community in crime and the social costs. Often it is at the cost of our children,” said Lang.

Police Capt. Jerry Lampkin has worked in law enforcement for 35 years following serving in the Marines.

Lampkin primarily deals with administrative duties, but still conducts traffic stops and other police work.

“I never aspired to be a captain or work in administration,” Lampkin said. “I just wanted to have a positive impact on people. We live in a great community and I love what I do.”

Wes Henning is a veteran officer with the Beatrice Police Department.

“The biggest (thing) I have seen has been in technology,” Henning said. “We used to use VCR tapes and now we are all digital with body cameras. Phones were big bags and now we have miniature computers on our hips all the time.”

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