By Ben Rodgers
ASHWAUBENON – Newly retired from the Ashwaubenon Public Safety Department, former chief Eric Dunning is looking forward to a new challenge.
“This past year I turned 50 and started looking at things, and one of those things that happened over this past spring there was a job opportunity at St. Norbert College to become the senior director of campus safety, and it kind of sparked my interest,” Dunning said. “I’ve been doing the public safety work for 25 years, the last 12 as chief, and being 50 years old, I still felt like I had a lot to contribute yet. So I felt I wanted to try something new in my career.”
Dunning will go from directing a department that handles police, fire and rescue services for a population of nearly 18,000 residents, and 35,000 people when businesses are included, to around 2,000 students for St. Norbert College.
“Looking at the campus safety position, there’s a lot of similarities as public safety director,” Dunning said. “Instead of Packer Sundays, I have St. Norbert football games on Saturday, and they have their cultural events on campus as well. As part of the campus staff, I’ll be on call 24/7 in case there’s some kind of emergency.”
A graduate of Superior High School in western Montana, Dunning attended Minnesota State University, Mankato.
From there, in his early 20s he worked as a probation/parole officer for the State of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
In 1994, he was hired in Ashwaubenon and the village took care of his formal training on his route to chief.
“They sent me to the academy back in the day,” Dunning said. “I was fortunate that I went to school in Minnesota, got my associate’s degree and came to Wisconsin, and at that time you had to be sponsored by an agency to go the academy.”
The village also sent him to the FBI Academy in 2007 for an intensive 10-week leadership training course.
With a multifaceted department, Dunning said training for all officers on a variety of skill sets is crucial.
“Reinvesting in your employees to better themselves, not just to become police officers, but they’ll send people to school to become paramedics and advance their paramedic skills,” he said.
That’s one thing that hasn’t changed during Dunning’s tenure with Ashwaubenon Public Safety, the fact that it provides emergency services in three areas and has since the department was formed in 1980.
But the growth of Ashwaubenon is one thing that has changed dramatically in Dunning’s 25 years.
“When I became the chief, we were in a recession and we had to cut $300,000 from our budget because of the economic times we were going through,” he said. “Now fast forward 12 years and we’re seeing prosperity.”
The Resch Center, Titletown, Lambeau Field renovations, Bay Park Square Mall and the development of the Stadium District have all added to Ashwaubenon’s growth, he said.
This makes Ashwaubenon unique because the village is now close to a 50-50 split between commercial and residential, Dunning said.
“We just have a uniqueness of where we are geographically,” he said.
Dunning said growth in the village only has one option.
“The village is landlocked, so as far as population goes it can’t grow out, but it’s growing up.”
This could eventually result in a more densely populated village, or at least a shift in population centers.
Dunning said the village is currently conducting a study that looks at exactly that change, including officer efficiency, shift placement and staffing levels.
“With the growth of what’s going on around the village, public safety and other services need to keep up with that growth,” he said.
With Ashwaubenon poised to continue its growth, Dunning said he is looking forward to a slightly less intense workload, and he is thankful for the community that gave him his start.
“I want to thank the village and the residents for my time, and it’s been an honor to represent the village,” Dunning said. “It’s an honor for them to give an opportunity to someone like myself, the opportunity to lead such a great public safety department.”