Farewell and thanks

 Retiring Turtle Lake Police Chief Al Gabe holds a plaque that was presented to him by the Almena Village Board at its December 2022 meeting. Photo contributed

By Bob Zientara

Seventeen years after his department contracted with the Almena Village Board to provide law enforcement services, Turtle Lake Police Chief Al Gabe is going into retirement.

Gabe, who is also an Almena resident, winds up his career this Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, and will turn over his responsibilities to new chief Derek Posey.

Posey is an eight-year veteran with the department who, up to now, has been serving as its K9 officer.

“I’d been thinking about it for about two years,” said Gabe (whose last name is pronounced GAH-bee).

But he said that, with 10 years to go before qualifying for Medicare, he was waiting for his wife, Christy, to finish making a career change.

A former therapist, “she wanted to do something with her psychology degree,” Gabe added. “We wanted to be sure she was in a stable work environment first. She’s the one with health insurance.”

Christy Gabe now works at Barron Area Residential Treatment, a Barronett facility run by Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.

According to the LSS website, “BART House” is intended for male residents with addiction issues, and who are under supervision prior to release from probation.

The retiring chief said he wasn’t leaving because of a social media controversy that took place last August, when he forced a motorist to leave town after a run-in at a parking lot in the village.

A quick survey revealed seven links to video taken by police body cams and the individual involved. All told, there had been more than a quarter of a million views since the incident took place.

But Gabe said the disagreement happened eight months after he let the Turtle Lake Village Board know that he was retiring.

“We don't have a problem with people coming to the community,” he said. “But if you don't want to identify yourself, that’s an issue. We want to know who you are.”

Gabe said he had gotten a lot of support since the encounter.

“It's amazing how many people say they’re still scared about the Jayme Closs issue,” he said. “Some people told me they’re petrified, that they lock their doors at night.”

The five-member Turtle Lake Police Department serves two villages with a total of about 1,700 residents.

But because of the presence of St. Croix Casino, tourism, and the summer traffic generated by two U.S. highways (8 and 63) in Turtle Lake thousands more people either visit or take lodging in Turtle Lake, while Almena gets busy during its August summer festival, Gabe said.

Almena once had a village officer, then was served by a “reserve corps” of Barron County Sheriff’s deputies. But, by 2005, neither arrangement was in effect any longer.

The two villages, located five miles apart from each other, worked out a deal.

“When it started, Almena wanted an officer on duty Friday and Saturday nights from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.,” Gabe said.

Two factors made that difficult, he added.

“First, we didn’t have enough part-time officers,” he said. “And the funding has changed – drastically.”

From an original arrangement for up to 140 hours of patrol service a month, Almena now gets an estimated 60 hours a month, although that total fluctuates.

“We spent a lot of time in Almena for a homicide three years ago,” Gabe said. “Other situations, such as when you’re transporting someone to Winnebago (the state mental health facility in Oshkosh), can take up to 20 work hours.”

After retirement, Gabe plans to stay on the home farm in Almena where he grew up. Part of the farm was already in the village limits when the rest of the property was annexed in 2004.

The family also includes three grown children, one son and two stepsons.

Gabe said he doesn’t have many plans for the immediate future.

However, “I will do some (kind of work),” he added. “Nothing set in stone yet, but I’m not looking for a 9-to-5 job.”

Gabe said he asked his employers not to have a retirement party.

“If people want to wish me well personally, that’s what means the most to me,” he said.