It takes time. It takes time for the cream to begin to rise when milk is shaken inside a container. Steve Olson, the police chief of Fontana, who’s had such a negative influence over that small community and the entire area around it at the south end of Geneva Lake, is retiring. For twenty some odd years that end of the lake has suffered under his yoke of dominant, aggressive and egregious police conduct. It was as if he was swept in by some strange fictionalized Arizona wind. As chief he set up nasty little speed traps and trained his officers in how to ticket whomever they felt like because his attached court puppet judge would convict each and every citizen, no matter what the evidence. The money poured in from residents and strangers alike. Then the chief went to work on purported drunk drivers. When the stopped drivers were taken to be tested, their cars were left at the side of the road and then towed so the chief could generate even more revenue. Ostensibly, all these acts of rotten police conduct were executed to serve and protect Fontana, a village of sixteen hundred business owners and residents, with most of the property owners actually living in Illinois. Because of that part-time residency situation alone, the Fontana kingdom built around Chief Olson had one of the highest police officer to citizen ratios in the nation. Because of Fontana’s overwhelming crime? Nope. Basically, there’s no crime in Fontana, to speak of (averaging about 1/3 of an assault, 1/5 of a robbery and six thefts a year!) and that’s been going on since long before Olson took over. One could say that the overwhelming size of the force, and the aggressive enforcement kept the crime rate down. Maybe, but look at the tradeoff. Businesses shuttered up and down the main streets and a lot of people simply not wanting to go there because of fear of encountering “those” men.
When Chief Olson departs the sun will begin to come out if the village board will allow it. There are outstanding chiefs installed in other departments around the lake. Lake Geneva’s Mike Rasmussen instantly comes to mind. The Lake Geneva Police department not only keeps crime way down, but they do it in such a fashion as to enhance the town and actually attract visitors and new residents because of the accommodating, balanced and welcoming safety policies. The chiefs in the Town of Geneva, Town of Linn and Williams Bay are also top notch and provide the same kind of quiet but super-effective work that the Lake Geneva Police do. In these communities it’s enjoyable to encounter the cops on a regular basis; for directions, to find out what’s going on, or simply to pass the time. It’s like days gone by. Nobody want’s a traffic ticket, or any kind of ticket, but if you are unlucky enough to get one you don’t want to sit there in terror wondering what’s going to happen to you, and you sure don’t want to end up in a court run by the police chief’s best friend who’s a full time agent for an auto insurance company. Go sit in the traffic/criminal court in Lake Geneva and be prepared to be shocked at how the judge there administers justice with rationality, fairness and good sense. Fontana can now start on the road back to community engagement with the retirement of this man. It is hoped that the kind of thinking that possibly forced this issue will spill over into how the rest of the community is managed. The Abbey sits there like the Jewel of Nile. They’ve got that, and the manager there (David Lindelow), going for them. The entire lake area is looking for Fontana to blossom anew now that it’s moving in the right direction.