MUSKEGO – In swift order, the city of Muskego has simultaneously announced the retirement of its police chief and the installation of his successor.
Richard “Rick” Rens, a 30-year member of the Muskego Police Department — the last four years of which he spent as chief — will step down from his post effective April 16. His replacement will be a Muskego detective, Stephen Westphal, a 16-year member of the force.
Both changes were announced at the same time: Muskego’s Police and Fire Commission meeting on Wednesday. Rens’ plans had not been publicly announced prior to that time, though a Feb. 2 PFC agenda hinted at the likelihood as commission members discussed a replacement process for the post.
Praise for chief
Following the commission’s unanimous vote naming Westphal as the next chief, PFC President John Mooney set aside a moment to praise Rens for his long service.
“He started out as a patrolman, the path was there, he took care of the opportunity and served us well for 30 years,” Mooney said. “Rick and (his wife) Sherrie, we wish you a long life and good health. As I say, you just added five more days to your weekend.”
In a post on the Muskego Police Department’s Facebook page and through separate comments, city officials also acknowledged Rens’ service record. They made special note of his role overseeing the construction of the $9.2 million police station, completed in 2019, and his efforts in establishing an Officer Wellness Program helping sworn and civilian staff during times of crisis.
For Mayor Rick Petfalksi, who moved to Muskego 23 years ago, Rens was a friendly face from the start, as the mayor recalled meeting the young patrol officer early on.
“That is exactly what we want from our officers — being outgoing and approachable to our citizens,” Petfalksi said. “He has that balance of friendliness which makes him very approachable, but also the seriousness of a cop which projects a strong leader and protector.”
Rens also has done a good job of grooming young officers, “which I am sure made the appointment process for his successor difficult for the Police and Fire Commission,” Petfalksi said. “Those are good problems, however.”
One of those emerging leaders is Westphal, whose 16-year service record also has some recent noteworthy accomplishments.
According to the Facebook post, Westphal, who will serve as the city’s seventh chief, was promoted to detective in 2012 and “has earned statewide recognition in his work with crime victims.” In 2020, he was selected as the Death Investigator of the Year by the Wisconsin Association of Homicide Investigators.
In addition, he has served for 25 years of service in the U.S. Army and Army Reserve, currently serving as a lieutenant colonel. He also previously deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Westphal is also an adjunct instructor for the Waukesha County Technical College and his academic accomplishments include a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Petfalski said he is looking forward working with the new chief.
“Det. Wesphal has proven his policing skills over the years and, combined with his extensive community involvement and strong leadership experience … I am confident he will continue the reputation of excellence that the Muskego Police Department has earned over the years,” Petfalski said.
Rens himself expressed strong confidence in his successor.
“Steve brings years of law enforcement knowledge, leadership skills and professionalism to this position,” Rens said. “I have no doubt that the police department and the city will be in good hands when I leave.”
Westphal, not surprisingly, is elated by the opportunity, with an eye toward continuing department initiatives under Ren, who he said “always placed the needs of citizens and the officers of the Muskego Police Department above his own.”
“I am incredibly humbled by the trust and faith of Muskego’s Police and Fire Commission,” Westphal said. “I hope to continue Chief Rens’ legacy by focusing on officer wellness. I also hope to continue leading this department into the future with an emphasis in community partnerships, training and transparent communication.”
For Rens, the idea of publicly announcing his retirement, though not completely kept under wraps, was a practical choice that fit his personality.
“I’m not big on drawing attention to myself,” he said.
The end of his police career brings to a close a job Rens said was made easier by the community in which he has worked.
“After 30 years of working in Muskego, I can honestly say that I never regretted one day of working here,” he said. “It is a great community, and I have had the opportunity to work with great people inside the police department, as well as in the community. Muskego has shown its police officers great support over the years and we have actively engaged citizens in community policing.”
The relationship between residents and police paid off, he added.
“The cooperation between Muskego residents and the police department has resulted in a community with a low crime rate and it also makes Muskego a great community to live and work in,” Rens said.