The City of Whitewater thanks Chief of Police, Lisa Otterbacher for her 28 years of service as she retires from the department and starts a new chapter in her life.
From the age of seven, she knew she wanted to go into law enforcement. Helping others was a part of who she was even at a young age. Coming to the defense of others and sometimes even getting in trouble for beating up the boys in order to save the girls.
Lisa became an officer in Crystal Lake where she grew up followed by being the first female officer hired in Whitewater. She credits her parents for supporting her lifelong goal.
While performing an undercover drug search at Richmond High School in Illinois, an article was written about her work by the mother of an officer in Williams Bay. She urged her son to meet this young female officer and arranged a blind date. Tim and Lisa have now been married for 29 years.
The two have a strong friendship and partnership. “I would not be where I am today if it were not for Tim.” Along with Lisa’s parents, Tim was always a lifelong supporter of Lisa challenging herself and climbing the ladder saying, “If you don’t apply, you’ll have no options.” Tim helped as a dad while Lisa got an education, both a bachelors and master’s degree in order to follow her dream. Tim’s passion was to work as a deputy in the field where he recently retired as a sergeant from the Walworth Sheriff’s department with 33 years of experience.
“Tim kept me humble and in line with what was going on,” Lisa said. “If you hold people accountable for the little things, big issues won’t happen and we don’t get lost in our jobs.” Both worked 2nd shift and then switched shifts to parent their two kids, whom Lisa speaks of proudly. “Our son Calvin is 21 and in the Army. I am proud of his service work and willingness to serve and defend our country. Our daughter Kaylee works in Washington DC. I am proud that both of our children have it in their hearts to work in public service.”
Through her time as an officer, Lisa fondly remembers her mentors, Chief John Coan and Lt. Tom Guequierre. “Tom was on my interview board and we had an instant connection. He felt I could do the job. And Chief Coan saw what I never saw in myself, leadership.”
Photo Gallery from the Change of Command Event
Lisa wanted to do investigative and detective work and early on was on the Whitewater rescue squad. While on the rescue squad, Lisa was able to help implement a program with her colleagues to bring AED’s in the squad cars. Whitewater was one of the first departments to make this investment in the machines and in their community.
Coan continued to give Lisa more and more work and asked for her to work on policies and other projects. He restructured her role for leadership. She became administrative Lieutenant followed by Chief of Police in 2011. “I was given the task to oversee communications in hiring, internal affairs, and policy development,” Lisa remembers. “This was one of my favorite positions because Coan allowed me to have opportunities and take responsibility. I was given exposure and I grew a lot and he was an amazing mentor.”
The process to become Chief of Police was intense including having interviews televised. It was down to five candidates and five questions with community members scoring the responses. This was in addition to meet and greets, background checks, meeting with a psychologist, and a few more interviews.
“I was given a big piece of humble pie when I was chosen as the next Chief of Police for Whitewater,” said Lisa. “I started with a strategic plan. I was leading but I had to ask my crew where they want to take this ship. If I don’t have buy-in, how are we going to do this and how am I going to lead?” She had to regroup and ask where we should go and how to accomplish the ultimate goal. “My first year, the word was humble.”
Lisa continues to attribute any successes to those around her. “This job has been amazing because of the people. I wish I could take a camera and just show the amount of compassion and empathy shining through my staff. It humbles me again. They awe me.” Lisa says about her staff and colleagues.
When asked ‘Why Whitewater?’ Lisa smiled. “Whitewater was the perfect size for me. I desired to make a difference in a community that I can serve and protect and I was passionate about people. I wanted to know them… this is my paperboy, and this is my mail carrier. There is something special about that.” Lisa’s favorite thing about Whitewater is the capacity of genuineness of the residents. Officers can see some negative situations while in this position but citizens in Whitewater went as far as opening their homes and feeding officers during trying times. “There is such genuine generosity in this town. Whitewater opens their hearts and gives unconditionally.”
No matter what city you choose to serve in, to many, the last few years has been a rough road in law enforcement. Where there may have been over 200 applicants for a position years ago, today there may be only 60 applicants. There is concern and nervousness to join the force but Lisa feels for those who continue to apply, it speaks volumes to their character.
“You can achieve what you desire for a career but you have to believe this is your calling, your fit, what you are destined for, and it has to your gift. You can’t keep gifts on a shelf, you can’t fake it. There is something unique about an individual who is willing to go towards danger or gunfire when others run away. You will honorably serve, compassionately care, and that’s the oath you take.” Lisa has always felt that humility is a huge part of the job. “Police are not in need of affirmation and may often get cruel judgement but it is their ability to propel forward and not stop them with hate and anger.”
Lisa has been able to look at her career with pride. “I have learned a lot. I have failed. I have persevered. Somewhere those lessons are going to be used. I got to fulfill a dream and I got to do what few get to do and I want to remain humble and thankful to have done this job.”
In the book of Lisa Otterbacher, there are many chapters with many stories. June 2nd is just the next chapter. When asking what is on the next page, “I don’t know what the next chapter will hold but I am excited about it. It is time to change gears. I am driven by my faith. I confidently know I was brought into this position, to this community by my faith and so I know the same goes for my next chapter.” Lisa says she has peace and contentment with embracing the unknown. With the desire to help victims and those struggling, wherever her journey takes her, she is sure it is to be of help to someone.
When asked to list the chapters of her book, she answered quickly. “Chapter 1- Foundation. I have the foundation of my parents, family brother and sister. I had a great life. I left my parents’ house and didn’t look back. Chapter 2- Love. I fell in love and started a career and just had fun. I like to look back at the fun. Chapter 3- Family. I raised two great children who fill me up. My son gave me the ultimate gift and he said ‘you did all right, mom’. Chapter 4- Career. My life as an officer and who I became. Chapter 5- To be determined. I look forward to finding out how it plays out. This book has been fantastic so far.”
With the years she has served and the situations she has been in some parting words of advice from Lisa the Police Chief, the mom, the wife, the daughter, the person. “Have fun. Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Also, live for today and don’t miss the journey. I don’t have crappy days, it is a choice. You can’t take yourself too seriously but there are reasons for everything. Things are intentional and you have to choose to see it through your own life lens. You are in charge.”
“At the end of the day, I am Lisa. I am also chief but Lisa is who I am. It is my full-time job to remain humble.”
Lisa celebrated her final day as Chief of Police in Whitewater on Friday, June 1, 2018, when she handed over the torch to Chief Aaron Raap at a change of command ceremony in front of family, friends, and colleagues. Lisa, her husband Tim and daughter Kaylee rode off into the sunrise, turning the page to the next chapter.