Rock County sheriff’s deputies won’t be wearing body cameras in the near future, but Sheriff Troy Knudson hopes to get the county board to provide funding eventually.
Knudson applied for a grant that would have provided body cams for 20 deputies plus storage equipment and training, but he found out this week the application was denied.
The sheriff’s office has about 100 sworn officers.
The grant would have provided $40,000 if the county would match that amount, for $80,000 total.
The county is well into its budget-planning process. The budget was scheduled to be presented to the board Thursday night, and a public budget hearing is set for Wednesday.
“It might be easiest to put this on the back burner until next year’s budget process, and yet there’s been a lot of interest in us having this type of equipment, and it may justify moving forward before that,” Knudson said.
Knudson said he applied for the grant from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance in the spring, but if he had known about the police killings of Black people that have enraged many across the nation this summer, he would have applied for enough money to outfit all deputies.
The cameras are important, Knudson said, “to ensure you have the full support of the community.”
Knudson said the sheriff’s office receives about one complaint about deputies’ use of force per year, which has allowed the office to get along without body cameras, “But we just want to make sure we are doing all we can, that we are being transparent, in the event something does occur.”
Now, Knudson intends to work for a full implementation of body cameras, 95 of them for deputies or perhaps 185 cameras so jailers would wear them, as well.
Knudson said his staff is just starting to study what would be needed, so he didn’t want to guess what the price tag would be.
All the sheriff’s office’s patrol cars have dashboard-mounted cameras, but those can’t capture everything a deputy might do outside the car. The jail has a good camera system, but not every area is covered, and those cameras don’t record sound, as body cameras do, Knudson said.
Racial-justice advocates have called for all police to use body cameras to document police behavior, and many police officials have said the cameras can protect police from false or misleading accusations.
Most law enforcement agencies in Rock and Walworth counties have body cameras, although in some critical incidents officers didn’t activate their cameras. That happened in the fatal shooting of Montay S. Penning, 23, in Beloit on Dec. 10, when two of three officers involved had body cameras, but only one activated a camera.
Four of the five Janesville police officers who were at the scene of a March 26 shooting didn’t have their cameras or didn’t activate them because the incident happened at shift change, police have said.
Knudson said proper training and policies for body camera use would be important in adopting body cams.
As Andy Sorg III surveyed the damage to his butcher shop off Highway 14, corn chaff blew on a light wind through the shop’s shattered roof and east walls.
Above, visible through a yawning hole in the roof, was the sky and a flock of birds on the wing.
Daylight and wind should not be pouring into the meat processing room at Sorg’s Quality Meats and Sausages.
But that has been the scene since Sunday afternoon, when a 70-foot concrete silo filled with harvested feed corn collapsed and smashed through the back side of the family meat market.
Wiped out is a year’s worth of feed for Sorg’s cattle operation. The shop’s main meat processing room is heavily damaged and still open to the elements. Sorg’s butcher operations are halted while insurance officials survey the wreckage. Thousands of pounds of bison meat, beef and pork in the shop’s adjacent freezers also is likely ruined, covered in a mangled mess of building debris and spilled corn.
It comes at the tail end of a year that has brought the COVID-19 pandemic, then food hoarding, then fresh meat shortages and now unending demand that has strained small, rural meat markets such as Sorg’s. They’re booked solid on meat orders for months, overloaded and stretched thinner than any time in their existence.
Sorg still didn’t know Thursday how or why the silo collapsed, but the damage is clear as the daylight shining inside the main workroom. Sorg was a few miles away, running a load of grain to an elevator, when the silo toppled and crashed its payload—30 acres of harvested grain—into the back of the market like a bomb.
“My son called me and said, ‘The silo hit the shop, Dad. It’s in the shop,’” Sorg said. “I got out of my semi, and I puked right on the spot.”
Wrecked or buried under debris is at least 60 freezer trucks worth of packaged meat cuts and hand-packed sausage. And that’s just meat from animals Sorg’s owns. The market is still taking stock of others’ orders in the locker.
Perhaps worse, Sorg’s has at least 40 butcher’s orders backed up, and, like many small butcher shops, they’re booked out almost a year on orders, the family said.
This week, farmers and other customers unaware of the destruction or the scope of the damage continued to call Sorg’s to try to book more butcher’s orders in a year that seems bound by unceasing demand and unfathomable misfortune.
Andy Sorg II, Sorg’s father, has operated Sorg’s since 1959. The last time the meat market dealt with a run on fresh meat like the one this year, it was during the Nixon administration in the summer of Watergate.
“We’re overloaded. We were overloaded before the silo came down. Everybody is overloaded,” he said.
The farm’s patriarch, who is 82, said the damage at the farm is unlike anything he’s ever seen.
“One of the insurance guys came out here, took one look at all of this and said, ‘I’m not equipped for this. This is beyond my capability,’” Andy Sorg II said.
This year, major meat processors nationwide have been stung by a glut of demand and intermittently shut down by outbreaks of COVID-19 in their plants. Some big processors have been unable to meet spiking demand as consumers last spring and summer began panic buying meat during the height of statewide coronavirus lock downs.
Analysts and lawmakers in other states have likened small-scale meat processors such as Sorg’s as little engines that could in the pandemic. The analysts have painted rosy pictures of small farming outfits answering America’s call for fresh, farm-raised meat during the dark weeks of COVID-19.
It’s true to an extent, but the burden being absorbed by the small manufacturers has got small processors strained.
A share of Sorg’s customers are small-acreage farmers who bring in a steer or pig for slaughter and processing to produce enough meat to fill their home freezers for winter.
But this year, Andy Sorg II said, he’s had small pork producers book out processing jobs at Sorg’s a year in advance. Those hogs bound for slaughter literally haven’t been born yet. Sorg’s has begun charging up-front to process beef.
Both trends, Andy Sorg II said, “aren’t normal at all.”
Andy Sorg III said many of his staff haven’t had a full day off since March or April, when COVID-19 hit the Midwest with a vengeance.
“When I have a day off, I work on fencing and tend cattle,” he said.
Despite the silo crash, Sorg’s market is not completely without meat, and it continues to operate even with the avalanche of spilled grain out back.
Andy Sorg III and his son, Jon Sorg, said one local meat locker has loaned Sorg’s a meat truck to store some of the meat not damaged by the silo collapse. Another area meat locker offered to run Sorg’s processing until the farm can get their smashed butcher shop shored up.
Andy Sorg III said other markets’ offers are symbolic of the help the region’s small meat processors have always been willing to lend each other, but he said most local markets are too bound up by their own heavy demand for meat to help right now.
“If there’s one thing I want people to know, it’s that customers will have to be patient. We’re working as hard as we can on all this, and we’ve been working nonstop for weeks and weeks,” Sorg said.
“I’ve got to make sure our workers don’t tire out. We might take a few weeks to get caught up, but we will get caught up.”
Ninety-two-year-old Virginia Kowal remembers a time when neighbors came over for good-natured discussions about politics.
When they went home, everyone still talked to each other, even if they had opposing views.
The Janesville woman and her late husband, George Kowal, thrived on politics their entire lives.
Virginia hosted many political functions, including a 1968 coffee for Muriel Humphrey, wife of presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey.
Today, daughters Diane Kowal and Grace Spoden have fond memories of going with their father door-to-door as he encouraged people to register to vote or campaigned for candidates in the 1960s and 1970s.
“They taught us the importance of understanding the political process,” Grace said, “and how important it is.”
Through the decades, Virginia and George kept political buttons, posters, fliers and bumper stickers, dating from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Barack Obama.
The items promote candidates for president, governor, congressional seats, sheriff, judgeships and state treasurer.
Most reflect elections before today’s highly polarized politics.
Now through Jan. 31, visitors can see the Kowal collection in a timely exhibit at the Rock County Historical Society. The display also includes political memorabilia from the historical society dating to 1896.
Organizers said the exhibit represents both major political parties and gives visitors a chance to remember elections past.
As a local historian, the exhibit “is something you dream about happening,” said historical society Executive Director Tim Maahs. “It is rare that something like this ties so perfectly into what is going on in current events.”
The display includes a poster inviting people to hear Robert Kennedy at the Carthage College Fieldhouse in 1968.
The event features coffee, refreshments and a high school band.
Jennifer Drach referred to the notice as a “sweet little poster” because of its friendly tone.
Drach and her brother, Matthew, are both curators at the historical society and organized the exhibit.
“I like the nostalgia of it,” she said.
Among items in the display are campaign buttons of Richard M. Nixon in 1972, Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sen. Russ Feingold; a life-size cutout of President Ronald Reagan; and a large poster of John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Initially, the exhibit focused on the memorabilia, but it quickly included the politically active lives of Virginia and George Kowal.
Both were born and raised in Janesville.
George, a World War II Navy veteran, served at the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, eventually becoming undersheriff from 1970 to 1977. He died in 2008.
Virginia worked as a medical secretary, reporter and real estate broker.
She keeps a small collection of political buttons on a wall in her home.
“They are not only for memories but also for conversation starters,” Diane said. “She still enjoys talking about politics.”
Virginia was a dedicated poll worker for more than 30 years.
On Nov. 3, Diane and Grace will carry on their mother’s tradition by working at the polls.
Grace recalls growing up in a home that received three daily newspapers.
“We were raised to look at information from all sides, not just the source that feeds us what we want to hear,” Grace said.
Listening to people of many political beliefs helped Grace during election campaigns with her husband, Bob Spoden, she said.
Bob Spoden served three terms as Rock County sheriff and retired in January 2019.
“You have to learn from people, even though you may not agree with them,” Grace said. “You have to do it in a way that is respectful and polite.”
Both Grace and Diane are diligent about voting.
“People tend to get busy with their own lives,” Diane said. “But there is an awareness about the importance of voting, especially in this election. It feels like people are having a political awakening, and the political awakening is for me, too.”
Anna Marie Lux is a human interest columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email amarielux@gazette xtra.com.
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