Eau Claire hostage situation serves as example for other agencies

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- It's been six weeks since a homeless man with a gun took a family with three young children hostage in Eau Claire. It all ended well as the hostages were released safely.

No shots were fired, and the suspect was arrested, unharmed. But police said getting to that point in about three hours was a stressful experience for the 43 officers on the scene.

Eau Claire Police Chief Jerry Staniszewski said the end result really couldn't have gone much better, but it's having a big impact on his and other agencies for future crises.

A gas drive-off and police chase quickly became a bit more intense, when a man left his car and broke into a random Eau Claire apartment with a nine-millimeter pistol.

In that apartment on Hidden Place, there were two women and three children, suddenly hostages at just four, two, and four months of age.

Police trailed 31-year-old James Albrecht, briefly lost track of him, but a hand-written note in toothpaste caught their eye.

“One of the hostages had written on the window that the person was in the apartment with a gun and they needed help.” “So, that's when things get really serious.”

Negotiations began and police said Albrecht agreed to trade hostages for cigarettes. After about three hours, everyone, including Albrecht, came out unharmed.

Staniszewski said 16 agencies worked well together to get the end result they were hoping for.

“One of my biggest successes is that everybody pitched in to help, they heard the call for help, they responded and the incident commander was able to take control of the entire situation.”

Not everything worked perfectly, however.

“We had cellphones that were dying, so some of those logistical things that we have to fine-tune and make sure we have some extra supplies ready.”

But with no blood shed, other departments want to learn how.

“When I travel to conferences on the east side of the state, the larger organizations, they reach out to me and ask me how it went because they recognize that this was really a unique case and it could happen in any community but it doesn't happen all the time. So as the year progresses and this case resolves itself, we'll be providing training on what we did, some of the successes, some of the challenges. I think that's how we succeed in law enforcement, is to share those experiences, whether they're good or bad.”

“When I heard the 'All clear' on the radio and 'In custody' and everybody was safe, it's a big relief. So, it gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment in our organization and know that people can have confidence in us and resolving the situations, no matter how small or big they are.”

Albrecht's next court date is set for May 22.

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