Saturday, May 20, 2006

Police Chief Swope reflects and contemplates after first year

Story and photos by Lynndi Lockenour

It was only a year ago that Tim Swope made the transition from St. Charles County Sheriff to St. Charles Police Chief. Now, after a year in his new position he has lots of ideas and says he loves his new job.

In an interview with First Capitol News last March, Swope said that he was surprised by the amount of administrative work his job required. While no longer surprised, Swope said, at times, he is still overwhelmed at the magnitude of administrative issues he deals with everyday.

Instead, a new surprise for Swope is the number of crimes in progresses that are perpetrated in the county on a daily basis. His first day on the job, Swope said, was spent pursuing and arresting bank robbery suspects. “The first day started like that and it hasn’t seemed to slow down since,” he said.

Another issue consuming much of the Chief’s time is complaints received by the City Council. “I dedicate a lot of my time to handling these situations personally. Wherever possible, I always make sure I’m involved in the process somewhere,” Swope said. While the news that results from some of the complaints may not always be positive for everyone involved, Swope said he thinks people appreciate being told what’s going on.

To help with common complaints, like code enforcement, an additional officer was placed into that department and Swope said it has helped tremendously. “Some might consider code violations to be lower level complaints,” he said. “But they are just as important to the people making the complaint and we want to deal with them to the best of our ability.”

Carrying over an ideology of “proactive policing” from his training in the Sheriff’s Department, Swope said no longer can a department survive on just responding to calls as they are reported. Rather, officers must be out on the streets, and either trying to stop the crime before it starts, or catching it in the act. “Waiting for the next one to occur is not acceptable,” he said. We have to be out there, doing the surveillance, and catching them before it happens.

Keeping the officers on the street is very important to Chief Swope. With this in mind, he moved four officers, who were previously sitting behind desks in the office, back onto the street. “While the officers were doing a great job in the office, I just felt it was important to get them back on the streets,” the Chief said, “because that is where we can best serve our community.”

New technology is allowing Chief Swope to keep his officers on the street for longer periods of time. Devices known as mobile data computers will soon be added to the patrol cars, allowing officers to file reports directly from their vehicles, without going back to the police station. Swope said officers had similar capabilities before, but the previous technology was severely outdated. The new computer systems have arrived to the department and Swope said they are now waiting to be installed in the vehicles.

With the warm summer weather quickly around the corner, Chief Swope said the department anticipates an increase in the crime rate. “Warm weather seems to bring crime and calls for service up,” he said, with daytime burglaries and traffic offenses topping the list.

Another consideration in the crime rate is the influx of students at Lindenwood University. As with any other college town Swope said this shift in student population must be considered when looking at the amount of crime throughout different times of the year. “A lot of students spend time in the Main Street area,” Swope said, “As with anything else, adding 14,000 people to the equation is going to increase calls for service.”

Like many other public services, the Police Department is also fighting to keep up with the growth that St. Charles city is incurring. At some point, the Chief said it will be necessary to add police officers to the force. Citing New Town as a perfect example, Swope explained how, while right now there are only a few thousand people living in New Town, but as the area grows, so will the number of people. “We are already seeing an increase in the number of calls for service to the area,” he said. “Eventually it will be necessary to add more police officers.”

In wishing to continue with the same success that his first year has brought to the St. Charles Police Department, Chief Swope hopes to implement the following programs and ideas within the department soon:

‡ Random drug testing for Police Officers- While Chief Swope assures that nothing in particular has spawned this type of testing, he said he feels it is important in reassuring the community that they can trust the officers.

‡ Victim call-backs – “Feedback is important”, says Chief Swope, and in keeping with this theme he has already began his program to call back victims and ask them about the service they received from the Police Department. “It’s important that we ask how our services are being received,” he said. “And then use that information to make the process better in the future.”

‡ Law enforcement accreditation- Each year guidelines are placed forth for the department by the state of Missouri and the department is expected to meet them. So far Swope said the department is great when it comes to policy and procedure aspects of the guidelines, but leaves something to be desired in other area. “This is something I really want us to focus on in the future,” Swope said.

Of the many things Chief Swope said he has emphasized in his first year, dedicating more resources to the drug unit is one thing in which he is most proud. “We could add five more officers and that would only mean five times the number of calls,” he said. “That tells us we have a significant drug problem in this county.”

One project Chief Swope is particularly proud of is the Mobile Reserve Unit (MRU). This unit consists of five men, four officers and one sergeant who perform special tasks and are often called in when surveillance is needed. Just this week, Swope said, the MRU team used their surveillance techniques to catch a group of robbers and Swope credits the MRU with helping add to the drug unit. “They [MRU] have helped make our drug unit, and the entire department, run more efficiently.”

Dressed in regular clothes, the MRU is used in special cases, covering everything from drug busts to traffic details and shoplifting. To date the MRU has seized over $1 million in illegal drugs and hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit currency. “Those drugs were destine to hits the streets,” Swope said. “But now, because of these officers, they will not.

Just a few weeks ago, the MRU confiscated 10 kilos of the methamphetamine known as ICE. “It doesn’t get much larger than that,” Swope said. “Now that’s 10 kilos going down the drain as opposed to out on the street,” he said.

Swope said one of the most rewarding parts of his job besides helping members of the community is using drug dealer’s money to create good in St. Charles. “It’s almost as though we get the last laugh because we take the money and put it toward something positive.”

Describing his first year as Police Chief, Swope said, “Slowly, but surely, we are getting there. I want to continue with the type of progress we’ve had in the last year. I want the community to know they can trust us.”

Perhaps as equally important is Swope’s message that the Police Department couldn’t do their jobs without the members of the St. Charles community. “We are here to help the community and it is my hope that each officer can come to work with a smile on their face because they know they are helping this great community.”