Sparta police form relationships with families through sports cards pastime

Sparta police and UW-Platteville partner to give out sports cards in community to strengthen police and public relationship

SPARTA, Wis. (WKBT) — Relationships matter when building trust. That’s the mission of the Sparta Police Department. One Sparta police officer uses a unique icebreaker to form relationships within his community.

Raise your hand if you like sports cards! 🙌

We want to thank the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Criminal Justice…

Posted by Sparta Police Department on Friday, June 17, 2022

Relationships blossom large in places where the population is small.

“It’s a lot of fun here,” said Sparta police Sgt. Zachary Fischer. “We’re a smaller community, but we keep pretty busy.”

Fischer knows the small-town chorus.

“We had one cop in town,” said Fischer, describing his childhood hometown.

This Wisconsin-raised farm kid understands communities like Sparta operate on civic engagement.

“My family was kinda really big in that giving back to communities and helping people out when they can,” Fischer said.

Apart from enforcing laws, he says in today’s climate this small-town recipe is vital to the future of his profession.

“We’re more than just the police department. Half of us live here in town too,” Fischer said. “We raise our families here in town.”

Fischer’s friend Nathan Forrest had an idea during the height of the pandemic.

“This is policing too,” said Forrest, a lecturer for criminal justice at UW-Platteville.

First-year criminal justice and forensic investigation students at UW-Platteville helped Forrest package all sports cards to donate to different police departments. It’s possible through the university’s Living and Learning Communities. 

Officers like Fischer hand them out to children in the community.

“It’s a great way for them to get to know each other and build on that community policing or that community spirit,” Fischer said.

Law enforcement has a problem, Forrest said.

“With the current climate surrounding policing, there’s not a lot of job applicants going out to departments anymore,” Forrest said. “A lot of departments are running pretty thin.”

A survey from Police Executive Research Forum shows agencies reported a resignation rate jump of 18% in 2020 from the previous year. Retirements among officers shot up 45%.

Officer morale was one reason highlighted in the report. The survey notes, “Officers are depressed over the negative national narrative about the police. They also have pandemic fatigue.”

Forrest said these interactions with the community can build trust between people and police.

“It’s not going to be the cure-all for all the problems communities and police have,” Forrest said. “But it is something officers can use to build relationships.”

Think of it as an icebreaker that brings officers at the Sparta Police Department a little closer to the Sparta community at large.

“It’s cool. It’s nice to have some interaction,” said Tonya Anderson, whose son received a package of sports cards and a high-five from Fischer at a Sparta park.

“Building those relationships is huge for us,” Fischer said. “[Forrest] said he just got a donation of 500,000 cards coming in. He said he’s good and stocked for a while.”

One small step toward a new horizon in community policing.

“Policing cannot exist without a community that supports the police,” Forrest said. “Police officers want to work in a community where they feel valued and respected.”

Fischer says this approach is nothing new. He knew an officer as a kid who did the same thing for him.

“He’d call us all over; he had a whole stack of baseball cards in his visor,” Fischer said.

He still remembers that conversation to this day.

A small-town gesture that forms a lifelong memory.

“It really lights up their day,” Forrest said.

Relationships that add up to form a new foundation under the place Fischer calls home.

“It’s worth it,” Fischer said.

UW-Platteville is working with several other police departments to donate sports cards so officers can connect with their communities.

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