NMU Alumni as Appleton Cops

Blue on the outside, green and gold at heart

—By Kristi Evans,

Northern Horizons, Fall 2010

Nearly 10 percent of the Appleton Police Department’s ­officers either graduated from or attended NMU. Three of the city’s finest—Deputy Chief Pete Helein ’81, Capt. Rudy Nyman ’90 and Lt. Carlos del Plaine ’87—were asked what accounts for this relatively high ­proportion. All agree that it is the quality of Northern’s criminal justice program and the APD’s continued satisfaction with the job performance of recruits who went through it.

“NMU is recognized as a great university offering a comprehensive program led by highly competent professors,” says Helein. “That ­reputation speaks loudly. So does the work ethic of the U.P. and Wisconsin students Northern typically attracts. It’s this combination that the APD finds appealing and the reason we continue to hire recruits with NMU ties.

“I had the opportunity to attend a college job fair in Marquette about four years ago. It was great being back on campus, connecting with the professors and students, and teaching in classes. I could see the level of enthusiasm and passion. The program continues to move in the right direction.”

Helein is the veteran among ­former Wildcats on the force, with more than 27 years’ experience. After graduating from NMU, he earned a master’s in police administration, which he said is now almost a requirement for promotion opportunities. Helein has advanced to overall supervisor of every officer in uniform and direct supervisor of plainclothes drug and gang officers. The DePere, Wis., native played football for NMU from 1977-81 and said the qualities of student athletes translate well to police work.

“It’s a team effort here, too, because you count on the men and women you work with on a daily basis,” he says. “Discipline and work ethic are also critical. Our department’s mission is to fight crime and solve problems. It’s not glamorized as you see on TV. We spend a lot of time identifying and evaluating so we don’t respond to the same addresses and deal with the same people. The reality is we find as much success in problem-solving as we do in arrests. Paying attention to the small things helps reduce crime.”

Nyman said it was this progressive philosophy of ­community- and problem-oriented policing that ­convinced him to accept a job with the APD in 1992. After three years on patrol duty, he was assigned as one of the ­department’s first ­community liaison officers.

“Instead of burglaries, robberies and car accidents, the main focus was on quality-of-life issues,” says the Ishpeming native. “It might be as simple as a noise complaint, to something more severe, such as an ­ongoing drug house. We used the SARA model—scan, analyze, respond and assess—to identify the root cause. I interacted with schools, church groups, the Boys and Girls Club and the Hmong-American Partnership in that position. Today, problem-oriented policing permeates our entire department, from patrol to investigations.” 

A longtime desire to help those who could not stand up for themselves led Nyman to consider either a military or law enforcement career. He ended up doing both. During a two-year assignment with the U.S. Army Military Police in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Nyman served as a patrol officer and as a bodyguard for a three-star general. 

“Being there during the mid-’80s heyday for European terrorism involving Germany’s Red Army Faction and the Italian Red Brigade reinforced what I wanted to do,” he recalls. “I had an opportunity to extend my military career as an enlisted person, but I already set a goal of getting a four-year degree in criminal justice at NMU. I wanted to see it completed.”

Nyman later was accepted into the Michigan State Police Academy, but the May graduation fell on his wedding day. His plan to attend a later one was foiled when the state put a post-election freeze on admissions to the academies because of budget cuts. They reopened, but not until after he had committed to training and working in Wisconsin. “I’m thrilled fate raised its head with the Michigan State Police and that I ended up in Appleton. It’s a great city and a great police department.”

That closing sentiment is shared by del Plaine, who was hired during his senior year in 1985 and even passed up a spring break trip to Florida with friends while waiting to hear if he got the job. He had to leave school early to join the Appleton force. Del Plaine said Northern was “very accommodating” in allowing him to take correspondence courses and transfer credits so he could complete his degree in 1987. He also said his student employee experience with NMU Public Safety gave him an edge on his application.

“I started as a lot guard and later worked at the front desk," said del Plaine. "They put me through the police academy held at Northern and, after that, I would occasionally ride with full-time officers on the weekends. I'm sure all that experience, combined with a letter of recommendation from Chief [Ken] Chant, went a long way toward my getting the job here.”

The Minneapolis native is a night shift supervisor, splitting his time between the ­station handling administrative duties and on the road overseeing those on patrol. Del Plaine and his colleagues agree that the APD is a rewarding and innovative work environment because it promotes ­lateral transfers, a wide variety of assignments and diverse backgrounds among its employees. Some are ­former nurses or teachers who were on the front line of many situations police typically encounter.

“It’s about more than having a degree in law enforcement,” adds del Plaine. “Anyone can be taught to fill out the blanks on a ticket or accident form. It’s the quality of the people that counts. You need someone with good common sense, a strong moral foundation and the ability to talk with people and make good ­decisions. That’s hard to teach once someone’s hired.

“NMU has a lot of those people, which says something for the quality of students it attracts and what the university does with them once they get there. The criminal justice ­program and faculty are highly regarded. Having the Northern ­experience has helped people get hired here, and the APD has ­benefitted by having Northern grads on staff.”

Photo Caption:
A force to be reckoned with: front row kneeling, Officer Greg Ryan '05; second row, Sgt. Joe Whitney ‘00, Sgt. Keith Bredael ‘90, Captain Rudy Nyman '90, Lt. Carlos del Plaine '87, Deputy Chief Pete Helein '81. NMU alumni not pictured are Officer Zach Pyles '07 and Sgt. Kevin Thompson ‘88.

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