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Green Bay’s NRT is making connections, building relationships

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – The Neighborhood Response Team (NRT) – Kevin Warych, operations commander for the Green Bay Police Department, said the name says it all.

“Enforcement is what (the police department does),” Warych said. “We’ll always do. But we want the community to view the NRT as partners, as people in the community they can work with when they have intel, or they have problems to connect with. Because the community is just as much at the table as the NRT is. And equally important, the community is going to teach the NRT cultural stuff, norms, what’s going on in the community, in the neighborhoods, what are people feeling, what their vibe is, because that all plays into why things happen the way they do in the community. So if we can build this partnership, with the common goal of reducing gun violence, this is not only going to help the community, but it’s going to help the officers do their job.”

Just two weeks into their new roles, Officers Steve Meisner and Miles Ganz, the first two members of the NRT, said they are busy making connections and building relationships necessary for their role.

Meisner, a former Brown County Drug Task Force officer who joined the force in 2013, and Ganz, a former patrol officer and member of the violent crimes unit who joined the force in 2017, said they each bring different strengths to the team.

“Miles really brings the intel side to it,” Meisner said. “He’s familiar with the people involved in it, where I bring more of an investigative side to it. Working in the drug unit for the last couple of years, I have different knowledge and investigative tactics. We’re both good talkers, good at meeting people and getting information from them. That’s probably the biggest skill you need is just to develop those relationships with everybody in the community to help solve these problems.”

Why a NRT?

The NRT was created as part of Police Chief Chris Davis’ multi-piece plan to combat the uptick in gun violence the city has seen in the last year.

In 2021 alone, nearly 80 cases of shots fired were reported.

Weisner said there are many reasons why the city is seeing an increase in gun violence, especially in the last year or two.

“The ease of access of guns is going to be one,” he said. “I mean, there’s a lot of straw purchases of guns, with people buying guns for other people, gun theft and drug problems. We have a huge drug problem. I know coming from where I was at (in the drug task force). People who sell drugs have guns to protect their drugs and money. And that’s always going to be the case.”

Ganz and Weisner said societal issues are also a contributor.

“Prices are going up, and people are struggling,” he said. “That’s something we can’t fix either without the help of everybody. And then we run into cliques, gang problems. When I say gangs, I mean, we have gangs here, yes. But I think a lot of our violence stuff… a lot is just familial or friends or clique type things, beefing with other people over silly things. And, really, we need to find a way to address those issues.”

Meisner said the department can’t “arrest your way out” of the city’s increase in violence.

“We can’t arrest everybody,” he said. “We need the community’s backing to really, truly make an impact here. If we don’t have that community backing, those problems are just going to continue.”

Meisner said the difference the NRT brings to the department is “intelligence-led policing, trying to develop relationships with the community, trying to go after the main offenders.”

“I think really, it’s going to make a positive impact in the community and try to reduce some of the shootings – having dedicated people who know who’s involved, what addresses are involved and what we can do to kind of mitigate future problems,” he said.

Ganz said that outreach includes building relationships with people in the community.

“I think it’s as easy as getting to know the gas station clerk,” he said. “I just talked to one for 10 minutes yesterday. So, we’re not just strangers strolling in. I can call them by their first name, and they call me my first name. And I can show them a picture of whatever I’m looking for that day. And I think there’s a lot of that just getting to know individuals, and then obviously the neighborhood associations… For us to solve these issues, getting to know people on a one-on-one level, that’s going to be huge for us.”

Meisner said the NRT’s responsibilities don’t differ much from other officers in the Green Bay Police Department.

“All the officers here are hardworking men and women who are out there just trying to make a positive impact,” he said. “The difference between us and them is our caseload. Our responsibilities are a little bit different. So where they’re, for lack of better terms, chasing a radio or managing a caseload, our caseload is much smaller. So our focus is much more narrow… But we work hand-in-hand with everybody. Because the two of us, there’s no way we could do our jobs without the help of both patrol detectives, community police officers and administration. If we don’t have their backing to help us, the two of us will never make an impact.”

Filling a gap

Warych said the key component is the NRT has the time and the resources to bridge what investigators are seeing, what patrol is seeing and then making their intel more actionable.

“And what I mean by that is they have the ability to stop the crimes before they occur based on the intel that they’re seeing,” he said. “And that’s what we want as a police department. We don’t want the crime to occur to begin with, and we want to be more proactive. So part of this initiative is just one fraction of our gun violence reduction strategy.”

Warych said the NRT is just a piece of the puzzle.

“We have to continue to find ways to engage the community to address the problems that we’re seeing,” he said. “The NRT is designed to address the violence that we’re seeing in the community, and to figure out ways to combat, and accountability is what we do. But like Steve said, we can’t arrest our way out of these problems. So what other strategies are we going to do, whether that’s through the Office of Violence Prevention, a civilian program director for that violence interrupters, neighborhood response to community intel community messaging and community partnerships? I mean, there’s so many different facets, and work in the NRT is just the beginning of that work.”

Warych said part of that is educating the Green Bay community.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if not a lot of the community knew that this existed,” he said. “So part of this is educating the public that we exist, and why we exist. So that’s going to be our ongoing effort. It’s just the beginning.”

As far as what the NRT will deem as success, the pair said they don’t want to quantify that quite yet.

“Because I think we really need that community impact, that working together to determine what our goals are going to be and what needs to be met,” Meisner said. “I mean, we have goals as police officers on reducing crime, but what does the community think is going to have an impact? I mean, I think we Ganz and Meisner said as far as getting in contact with them, call the police department.

“I think the most important thing is that if there’s something actively going on, it’s important to just call the police department right away,” Meisner said. “We can follow up on stuff afterwards, but the stuff that we’re trying to focus on, we would want police involved right away.”

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