Mahoney made a big impact in his 14 years as Dane County Sheriff

MADISON, Wis. — It took just over a minute before emotions filled Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney as he talked publicly for the first time about plans to leave his current position.

And it’s hard to blame him. He has spent the past 41 years in law enforcement, serving all but one of those years with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.

But things will change for Mahoney this spring. In May, he plans to retire from law enforcement and take on a new role at American Family Insurance.

He made a formal announcement about his plans Monday night. Tuesday, he spoke openly about his planned retirement, calling it one of the hardest decisions he’s ever made.

“I’ve grown to love to work with the men and women who chose to serve others before themselves,” Mahoney choked back at the start of Tuesday’s media briefing.

Decades of Service 

Mahoney was first elected as sheriff in 2006.  The past 14 years have been filled with change and challenge for the department.

Mahoney highlighted some of those moments while talking to reporters Tuesday. During this time, he stressed the department’s commitment to community engagement, specifically mentioning the United Way Law Enforcement Communities of Color program.

Every month, officers meet with underrepresented communities to discuss issues in law enforcement. Those conversations have resulted in change.

“In coming out of those meetings, we created a county-wide use of force policy that is still in use today,” Mahoney shared.

In the past decade the department has changed its electronic monitoring program and pushed for staff to be more transparent with the community and media.

He has also been vocal about the need for more mental health services. He said the core reasons people end up in the criminal justice system are drugs, alcohol and mental health.

Middleton Workplace Shooting

Mahoney also credits a community preparedness program, created under his leadership, for saving lives during an active shooter situation in Middleton in 2018.

Four people were injured when a WTS Paradigm employee started shooting inside the building on Sept. 19, 2018.

The shooter, 43-year-old Anthony Tong, was shot by officers and killed.

Mahoney previously said his department has dedicated two deputies whose sole focus is to train businesses, places of worship, and schools on how to react in the event of an active shooter situation.

Challenges of 2020

Like for many, Mahoney said 2020 was a year full of challenges for law enforcement officers.

Jail staff are dealing with outbreaks of COVID-19 and are moving in-and-out of COVID-infected housing units.

His department also lost a deputy due complications of the virus. The death was the first COVID-19 law enforcement line of duty death in Wisconsin.

The Dane County Sheriff’s Office also responded to violent demonstrations in Madison this summer, following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis earlier this year.

“We were also faced with a significant level of public unrest as a result of three morally corrupt cops in Minneapolis who took the life of Mr. Floyd. And the reverberations from that decision have impacted every law enforcement agency and every law enforcement officer across this country, including myself. But that’s not the reason I chose to leave,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney hopes his staff can grow from the challenges of 2020.

New Dane County Jail

Many of the projects that Mahoney is passionate about will continue after his departure. One of the biggest will be the expansion of the Dane County Jail.

Mahoney said he has confidence that county leaders will continue with the current plan to replace the more than 60 year old building.

“We will, for the first time, create medical and mental health beds. We will create programming that will address those core reasons people come in and out of the criminal justice system, and we will create a more humane and safe environment for those who remain incarcerated,” said Mahoney.

Career change

Mahoney will begin a new role as the Director of Strategy and Support at American Family’s Madison campus. He said the role will focus on physical security of buildings, risk assessment and incident management.

He said he hopes to continue to be engaged with the community on issues like social justice, procedural justice and working with people who were formerly incarcerated.

Since Mahoney is retiring before his 4-year term concludes, Gov. Tony Evers will be in charge of appointing a replacement.

Mahoney said he let Evers know he is willing to assist in finding a new sheriff and he will always be there to answer questions and share his experiences and perspective with his successor.