New police chief 'at home' in community

West Liberty leader anxious to meet residents


New Police Chief Eric Werling grew up in a town of similar size to West Liberty and says that makes him feel “more at home” in trying to fill the needs of local residents and business.

“I feel I’m coming home in some ways,” he said, noting the position he took over on August 1 fulfilled two goals – an “ultimate career goal” of becoming a chief of police and a goal of moving closer to his son.

A native of Anamosa, Werling comes to the community after serving as a School Security and Crisis Response Supervisor for the Cedar Rapids School District.

He’s also worked as director of public safety for Mt. Morris College where he earned his masters degree in Criminal Justice and was also on the University of Iowa Police force.

“Everyone I have met and worked with has been incredibly helpful and I’ve created some strong bonds already,” Werling said.

He believes part of what makes West Liberty “so great and unique” is its diverse population. “I look forward to learning more about ALL of the different cultures represented in our community in order to broaden my own horizons and make connections,” he said.

Werling said working at the University Police Department of Iowa should help his role in West Liberty. “I had the opportunity to work in a community with a diverse population from all over the world. That position also gave me many training opportunities on the topics of leadership and police supervision.”

Werling says he’s looked into the history of leadership in his office in West Liberty. “In order to know where you are going, you have to know where you have been,” he said.

“To accomplish that, I’ve been doing my best to research what my predecessors were working on so I can understand what has been done, what is in the works, and what still needs to be started.” He said obtaining that information is a priority and “will help me properly guide the department and set it up for success.”

Werling said he believes a Chief of Police “should make connections in the community to help facilitate an open line of communication between law enforcement and the people of the community."

He also feels that the Chief should be “someone that the community can trust and put their faith in to ensure the community is a safe place to live and work.”

“Lastly,” Werling continued, “I feel that the Chief should be a point of contact for the community to provide feedback to the police department to ensure that the department is successful in serving the community.”

The West Liberty Police Department currently has six full-time officers and utilizes part-time officers as well as reserve officers.

“The officers on our staff have a wide range of law enforcement experience and it ranges from brand new officers in the academy to officers with decades of experience,” he said.

The chief says the department has adequate staffing at the present time. “There are many projects and ideas that my department would love to offer that additional staffing would allow us to offer, but those are projects that are above and beyond the current services we currently provide,” he said.

He said if additional funding for an officer became available, “I know we would put it to very good use to serve our community.”

Community outreach is important to the new chief, noting he takes it “personally and professionally so the police department will be diligent in looking for opportunities to connect with the community.”

The staff participated in National Night Out at the beginning of the month, hosting an event where officers offered food, drinks, swimming and more by partnering with the West Liberty Fire Department, the Muscatine Wal-Mart, and the West Liberty Casey’s General Store. The chief said the department is currently working on other community outreach projects that resident families can look forward toward.

The West Liberty Police Department continues to provide policing services 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the City of West Liberty. “That has been the case for some time and we don’t plan to change that,” the chief said.

The police officers of the West Liberty Police Department will continue to provide professional law enforcement services as they have been for many years, Werling said.

Full-time West Liberty officers include Sgt. David Lia, Kim Halpain, Zach Pillard, Alex McEleney and Samantha Wheeler.

The chief said he is committed to the City of West Liberty and the officers of the West Liberty Police Department and plans to “perform my duties to the best of my ability as long as I am able.”

He promised the department will “always strive to perform at a high level” and plans to continually evaluate the need for additional or expanded training as well as new or upgraded equipment that will “keep our community and officers safe as well as streamline our departmental procedures and processes.”

Werling replaces Dave Lira, who served as interim chief for a second time following the resignation of Jeremy Burdess earlier this year, who decided to make a career change after serving about six months.

He replaced Kary Kinmonth, who resigned his position in late 2019 due to health reasons.

Werling said at a recent meeting he has not received his official chief uniform yet, so might be found in regular street clothes until they arrive.

He is excited about meeting West Liberty citizens and has an open door policy.