Twist of Fate
Riding along in a Waukesha County Sheriff’s squad car one night changed Ann Wellens’ life forever. The high school senior had her mind set on becoming an accountant or a veterinarian. An assignment to investigate any career that did not interest her turned those notions inside out.
“Just one night in the squad car and I was hooked,” says Wellens, South Milwaukee's police chief. These many years later, the name of the deputy she accompanied is lost to memory, but not his influence. “It was the selection of who they had me ride with that made all the difference. He was just so upbeat and positive about helping people through his work.”
Wellens graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in December 1987 with majors in criminal justice and political science and minors in Spanish and public administration – a feat she achieved in just three and one-half years. The day after graduation, as she was about to leave for a three-month study trip in Mexico, fate intervened again in the form of a job offer as an undercover narcotics officer for the Wisconsin Department of Justice – Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).
Recruit Training at MATC
As part of taking the job, she underwent 400 hours of training at the police recruit academy at Milwaukee Area Technical College – Oak Creek. The Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee County Sheriffs Department have their own academies, but suburban police departments and other agencies send newly hired officers to technical colleges for certification training.
Wellens spent about a year and a half working for the DCI. She found it interesting, but got depressed at seeing so many children in trouble. “Also, I wasn’t being paid much to walk into these situations without a gun and without a wire.”
"She's a quality person who worked her way up to the
position of police chief. South Milwaukee is very lucky to have her."
It was then that she decided to follow her long-standing interest in community-oriented policing and crime prevention. She accepted a job as a patrol officer for the South Milwaukee Police Department in May 1989, in part because her husband, Steve, had relatives in the city, and they both enjoyed its atmosphere.
Steve is now a Milwaukee Police Department detective. “It makes for some interesting conversations at home,” Wellens says. “And we have a good understanding of the things that happen and what’s expected of each other at work.” The couple has two children, 12 and 15.
Promoted to Chief
Promoted to lieutenant in October 1998, Wellens spearheaded a successful drive to become the first department in Milwaukee County to be certified by the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Accreditation Group. (Since that time, Glendale and Brown Deer have also become certified.) Wellens went on to become South Milwaukee's police chief in 2005.
"I love it here," she says. We can work with citizens on projects that make the community safer and help the children. "There's never a same day. Something different is always going on. Every day we have the challenges of dealing with different people. We are able to be proactive."
Wellens is proud of her department's community engagement efforts. "We are one of the only communities that still have a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. We also have a bicycle safety course for every third grader in the city, whether they own a bike or not." The department promotes neighborhood watch programs and sponsors a popular annual Community Night Out program that familiarizes citizens with police and other services provided by the department.
Learning and Teaching She and her officers are required to take 24 hours of additional in-service training each year. Much of that training has been fulfilled through seminars and classes offered by the Criminal Justice-Law Enforcement Program at the Oak Creek Campus. "We like to take classes at MATC because we are confident in the training we receive," Wellens says. "The instructors are very good, and we can apply what we learn to our daily activities. All the courses and the knowledge that I've gained there have helped to develop me and to achieve my goals."
Wellens serves on the program's advisory council, working with Assistant Dean Vince Vitale and Instructor Tim Talaska. "They both seek out feedback from local departments to make sure they are offering what is most needed. They're always looking to improve their program," she says.
South Milwaukee Police Chief Ann Wellens
underwent recruit training at MATC – Oak Creek and now is an advisor to the Criminal Justice-Law Enforcement Program
According to Vitale, “Ann has a lot of very good ideas on training issues. She is dedicated to making sure classes deal with current issues facing law enforcement today. And she brings a refreshing attitude to MATC’s police training mission. She’s a quality person who worked her way up to the position of police chief. South Milwaukee is very lucky to have her.”
For more information on MATC's Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement associate degree program, see: