Police From Across the Pond

program will bring German officers to Altoona

Anne Sandell, photos by Travis Dewitz

BOYS IN BLUE. In 2017, the Altoona Police Department will take in six German police officers for a one-of-a-kind international police exchange program.
BOYS IN BLUE. In 2017, the Altoona Police Department will take in six German police officers for a one-of-a-kind international police exchange program.

Wisconsin’s German roots are responsible for many of the things we love most here: beer, bratwurst, potato salad, and Oktoberfest, to name a few. Officer Edward Bell of the Altoona Police Department is looking to add to that list by inviting officers from Germany to the Chippewa Valley as a part of the International Officer Exchange Program. 

Bell was raised in Germany, spending 20 years there before coming to the United States six years ago. When he Bell heard about the opportunity through the International Police Association to host officers from across the world, he jumped at the chance to bridge the gap between the two countries and get the Altoona PD involved. His fluency in German and knowledge of how law enforcement operates eased communication.

He knew early on that Altoona P.D. was right for the program. Bell describes the department as progressive – it’s always implementing new programs that keep up with current issues – and collaborative with other law enforcement agencies in the area.

“My goal with this is to really convey the experience of the off-duty and on-duty life of American police officers.” – Officer Edward Bell, Altoona Police Department

“I’ve worked in law enforcement for three years now, and it’s just such a professional, well-rounded system where everybody works together,” Bell said. “I just thought that’s a really great platform to host such a program.”

The program is essentially a type of internship. The department will be hosting up to six German police officers for three weeks between July 30 and Aug. 19. During that time, the German officers will be doing ride-alongs, training exercises, tours of local facilities, and more.

Bell said the goal of the program is to give the officers a deep insight into the American criminal justice system and its day-to-day operations, as well as how all the elements work together. The German officers will be staying with host families from 11 local law enforcement agencies, who are willing to open their doors to the officers.

“My goal with this is to really convey the experience of the off-duty and on-duty life of American police officers,” he Bell said. “They have that one-on-one relationship they form with somebody to really be able to get their questions answered.”

Bell knows this will be a learning experience for not only the German officers but also for the local agencies and officers. There are unique patrol strategies, policies, and laws across the country and world that aim at solving the same problems found here in the Chippewa Valley. The experience will hopefully open the eyes of everyone involved to different approaches that they can learn from.

While large cities usually host offers through the program, Bell thinks Altoona poses a unique opportunity to the visitors. “It shows how really the majority of law enforcement is,” he said. “The officers that go to bigger cities, obviously that’s part of the system – but if you look at the numbers, the vast majority of police departments in this country are the size of Altoona’s. That’s how most people live here, and that’s how the interactions between citizens and officers are.”

The program comes at no cost to the City of Altoona, as the officers pay for the trip themselves. Bell has set up a GoFundMe donation page in hopes of offsetting food costs for the officers as well as to help subsidize the cost for local officers who want to go abroad in the future as part of the exchange program.

“(The Chippewa Valley is) a very progressive area, and … the area will noticeable grow with this program and that cultural exchange,” Bell said. “Just having the ability to open people’s minds, I think that’s just going to be a really great experience for years to come.”

To learn more about the program or to make a donation, visit www.gofundme.com/altoonapd.

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