1980s to 1990s


The 1980s moved in slowly but became the decade with the greatest amount of changes the department ever saw. This decade received direction under four different sheriffs

In October 1982, the new Public Safety Building opened with a form of metro-policing. Sharing the new building were the Kenosha Police Department, the Kenosha Sheriff’s Department and a new organization called Joint Services. Fleet maintenance, Records, Identification, Property and Evidence Storage, and Dispatch Services were combined from both departments and managed by a separate civilian administration. 

The city jail was closed. The county jail, now located on the second floor of the Public Safety Building, became the only jail in town. It was designed to hold 189 inmates.

Computers were added to the dispatch center, and a county-wide 911 system was initiated. 357 service revolvers were exchanged for 45 automatics. Squads went from AMC Ramblers to Chryslers to Chevrolets. The DARE Program was initiated in all schools in the county. 

A countywide drug unit and a Tactical Response Team were formed. A SWAT truck was created out of an old Jays Potato Chip Truck. This truck gave way to a mobile command post commonly referred to as MERV (Major Event Response Vehicle), which was put together all with drug forfeiture money. 

The county jail, although designed to move into the 21st century became severely overcrowded. By 1989, the Sheriff’s Department was once again sending prisoners to other county jails. A tragic water accident, in which a member of the Kenosha Police Department’s Dive Team drowned in Lake Michigan, saw the elimination of the city Police Department’s and Kenosha Sheriff Department’s dive teams.

1990s Kenosha County Detention Center Building

The dawn of the 1990s saw even more changes and improvements to a progressive and fast-moving department. Yet, this decade was only under the direction of two sheriffs. 

A jail study and building program was initiated by 1991. After a long and heated contested political struggle, two construction projects were started by 1996: one a House of Corrections run by the County Executive and the other a Pretrial Facility run by the Sheriff’s Department. Upon completion in 1998 and with newly elected officials, the Sheriff’s Department now operates both facilities with a combined bed space of 600 with room to expand to 1,400.

Squad cars changed from Chevrolet to Ford Crown Victoria’s, and so did the color from brown to Toreador Red with new custom graphics. Motorcycles were reintroduced after a 40-year absence. Laser speed detectors supplemented radar units. An honor guard with a department flag was added, and the dive team was reactivated.  

MERV was replaced with the Sheriff’s Mobile Command (SMC). The only third fully functional bomb unit in the State of Wisconsin was activated. Bicycle patrol was introduced, and a snowmobile unit was started. 

Recruitment brochures were introduced. The department grew from 103 to 307 personnel with 178 being assigned to corrections.