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Police Chief: ‘You’re Not a Small Town Anymore’

Lisa Harrison, head of Wentzville Police for three months, tells aldermen to keep pace with growing city’s crime trends, they need to grow and upgrade the police department.

When new Wentzville Police Chief Lisa Harrison interviewed for the position , she told the Board of Aldermen that with a rapidly increasing population the city soon would face big city problems.

In a March 14 meeting, Harrison said she was wrong.

“They’re here now,” Harrison told aldermen.

Harrison gave aldermen a assessment with a PowerPoint presentation  that laid out needs for increased personnel, technology and decrease the city’s liability.

Wentzville Patch readers can see Harrison's presentation on a PDF file accompanying the article.

After the presentation, Ward 3 Alderman Rick Stokes said Harrison had done a great job in assessing needs.

“I agree with you, there’s no easy answers. Now we have to find a way to fund this,” Stokes said. “But at least we what we need and where we’re going.”

Mayor Paul Lambi said the city hadn’t hired a new officer since 2008.

“We’re still covering the same 14 or 15 square miles, but now t rather than 15,000,” Lambi said. “We still have 3,500 vacant lots and 13,000 platted.”

Board members also asked Harrison to work on cost breakdowns and priorities for the plan.

Harrison said she talked with every officer in the department and most civilian staff to assess the department’s needs.

Big city crime

In her first few weeks as police chief, there were two major incidents, including a in a motel room and fired shots at police officers who returned fire, she said.

“To my knowledge, no Wentzville police officer had ever drawn a weapon and fired at another human being in the line of duty ever before,” Harrison said.

The second incident involved an accidental shooting at . Officers had to detain and question 165 people and had to call in other agencies for help.

“You are no longer a small town. You’re a suburban town bordering on a big city,” she said.

Increased calls, crime

Call volumes have increased dramatically, Harrison said.

  • 2009 – 36,305 calls
  • 2010 – 45,785
  • 2011 – 50,785
  • 2012 – 12,356 (through March 5. Projected call rate is 69,383)

In general, Wentzville’s crime rate is low and crimes against people have been down, but crime has risen 5 percent, Harrison said.

“Our person crimes are down, which is good. But our property crimes are up, which is where it starts. Folks are having difficult economic times so the little crimes start first,” she said. “Before big things go wrong, little things go wrong.”

  • Burglaries – up 17 percent
  • Larceny – up 4 percent
  • Vehicle thefts – up 43 percent (from eight in 2010 to 14 in 2012)

She said officers are at Walmart three or four times a day.

“That’s where it starts,” Harrison said. “You let this get out of hand, the others get out of hand.”

The city will continue to grow, especially with at the Wentzville plant. As population grows, so does the crime rate, she said.

While there are fewer violent crimes against people, are rising.

  • 2008 – 11
  • 2009 – 12
  • 2010 – 9
  • 2011 – 18
  • 2012 – 8 (through March 6)

She addressed police assaults already by requiring two officers to respond to calls rather than one. That means fewer officers are available to respond to calls, so there may be complaints regarding response times, she said.

“My officers are paid to serve and protect, not get hurt or killed,” she said.  “We have to be proactive.”

To meet needs for an increasing population, they need to focus on three areas, Harrison said.

She said the city can get ahead of crime trends by addressing manpower and organizational, equipment, technology and operational strategy issues. Immediate needs would include adding positions and reforming two existing positions.

1. Manpower increase

  • Add a major, who serves as an assistant police chief.
  • Keep a captain position but eliminate a lieutenant position.
  • Add two sergeants as first-line supervisors
  • Add six officers
  • Add a records clerk

Harrison said she wants to establish a professional standards division, which would oversee training, hiring, recruiting, grants, internal affairs and other duties that help reduce department liability.

Harrison also outlined adding positions in three to five years and five to seven years.

2. Technology, equipment upgrades

  • New in-car computers
  • Taser cameras or on-body cameras
  • Audio repair for interview room
  • Evidence bar coding system
  • Rifles and racks
  • Racks for shotguns
  • Restraint chair

The department needs to catch up to industry standards, Harrison said. Technology plays a big part in fighting crime. She attributed a nearly 30 percent increase in cleared cases partly to assigning an officer to the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department computer crimes task force.

She also said officers can’t use their new ticket printers because the eight-year-old car computers don’t have USB ports.

Trunks in squad cars leak due to antenna installation, which causes another problem.

“Shotguns aren’t being taken out because we have no racks to put them in,” Harrison said. “They can’t put them in the trunks because the trunks leak.”

3. Reduce liability

The chief said there were three suicide attempts in the jail over the past year. A restraint chair might have prevented one or more of the attempts, she said.

Other issues, such as regular training, hiring and retention also help reduce the city’s liability, she said.

Harrison said she understands that more officers means more salary, benefits, equipment and vehicles. She also understands budgetary limitations, she said.

But higher crime rates would affect the city’s growth, property values and tax revenue.

“Police are costly. It’s the biggest, hugest section of your budget,” she said. “But what’s the overall cost to the city if your crime rate skyrockets?”

paul bass March 26, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Chief referred to "civilian staff" I think she is a civilian also, commissioned officer, but civilian, unless she is in the military. Why do we have to have this you vs. me attitude? since sqat teams, drug teams, etc, in the military black nija outfits, there seems to be this widening seperation between police and citizens. we are all in this together. just the thoughts of an old St. Louis police officer. Paul Bass
lester davis March 26, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Thank God for the new chief.god bless her
Jay C March 29, 2012 at 08:50 AM
What is a sqat team? Also, I would think an "old" St Louis officer would know what a Chief means by civilian and non civilian. Nothing dividing about it, just a simple distinction.

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