Vickie Hansen retires, but looks forward to learning more

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record
Vickie Hansen retired Aug. 12 from the Mercer County probation office. CATHY DECKER/Times Record

ALEDO — Vickie Hansen, 58, of Aledo has worked as a probation officer for 34 years and 8 months in Mercer County. She retired Aug. 12.

Probation was Hansen’s second job in the county. 

“I worked for about a year before at the Mercer County Youth Service Bureau,” she said. 

There have been others who worked for the county longer, but a record of 35-plus years in public service is not something to look upon lightly.

As a University of Wisconsin-Platteville graduate with a degree in criminal justice she has had many experiences working in a sometimes stressful workplace. The job is not a 9 to 5 one. 

“I wanted to work in corrections because it’s a helping profession,” she said. “You have to help people help themselves. You can’t do it for them.”

During Hansen’s last 17 years she was the director of probation and court services. Her regular hours were from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but there were some additional hours that needed to be fulfilled.

“A lot of people don’t realize we have Saturday court,” she said. 

Each of the county’s three probation officers are on call on a rotating basis for a week at a time. While on call, a probation officer has one-hour to respond to a police officer’s request after an arrest. 

“Sometimes it’s in the middle of the night. I once had to go in on Thanksgiving Day,” she said.

Probation uses a scoring system when determining whether there is a risk to the community for the individual to be either released or detained. 

“You have to determine how likely they are to be safe and how likely the community is to be safe,” she said. “You detain a kid not because you’re angry with them, but for safety.”

She says the biggest change she’s seen in her 35 years is the increase in drug offenses. 

“I never thought in a million years that heroin would come back,” she said, “and of course meth is a terrible thing.” 

Those two were not here 34 years ago. There has also been an increase in incarceration for individuals with mental health issues, she noted. 

During the 1970s President Richard Nixon instituted a War on Drugs. 

“They poured money into the system and that was the only time the crime rate went down significantly,” Hansen said.

The thing she liked most about her job as a probation officer was its variety. 

“There were never two days the same,” she said. 

Job duties included supervising and enforcing probation orders, investigating and preparing written pre-sentence reports. 

“You pretty much write their life story,” she said. 

Pre-sentence investigations involve preparing 12-page reports that lists a person’s family, employment, mental health and criminal history and anything else a judge might need when making a decision on what is the best direction for handling a person who’s had trouble with the law.

While there is some counseling involved when dealing with individuals on probation, mostly the officers do referrals. 

“A ‘probation officer act’ sets forth what we do and don’t do,” she said. “We don’t do substance abuse evaluations; we don’t do mental health evaluations. We want to get people to buy into the notion that change is possible.”

Hansen does have a bucket list of things she wants to do now that she’s retired. She wants to spend more time with grandchildren, do more cooking and gardening and get involved with some organizations she’s hooked up with in the past — like the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minn. 

“I’d consider doing some volunteer work speaking about the bear center,” she said.

She’s been a member of that group for about five years. 

“I’ve been in bear dens,” she said, though not when a bear was present.

She also has devoted a lot of time and effort in making crocheted nests for animal life rehabbers. She’s made more than 100 nests for people making rehabilitations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. The nests range in sizes  and suitable for hummingbirds, owls or other small animals. 

“I’m currently crocheting a hammock for one lady who requested it for a cage,” she said.

She makes her crocheted nests from yarn donations. 

“When I get close to running out, the yarn fairies show up and there’s a bag of yarn in the yard.

Her final bucket list items include becoming a master gardener and master naturalist. “I’m not done learning,” she said.