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Springfield, MO

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A Conversation With ... Paul F. Williams

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What attracted you to Springfield Police Department and the city?
The department itself was very professional, well-trained and ethical, without any issues internally. What attracted me to the position was combining that — a department that was well put-together — with the opportunity to go to the next level and take the department forward. And then, there’s the community itself. … I sought police chief jobs all over the country and searched everywhere. Springfield was the place that we both felt had a good department that I could take command of, and the community was a good fit for our family.

Were you concerned about issues with the Police and Fire Pension Fund?
Very much so. If the citizens of Springfield hadn’t stepped up and voted to support the Police and Fire departments by passing that tax, I wouldn’t be here.

What are some of the biggest law-enforcement issues in Springfield?
It’s a very safe community. Violent crime here is not at the level of other cities our size are at. Property crime, on the other hand, is a problem. Theft … is huge, and related to that, drug abuse, methamphetamine use, is on the upper end of the scale compared to other communities of our size. Child abuse numbers here are out of the norm, both for the state and other areas of the country.

Is crime isolated to a specific part of town?
Crime occurs everywhere, but different types of crime maybe occur in different areas more frequently. … I’ve got some good information on hot spots, where a lot more crime occurs. There’s the downtown area, the Battlefield Mall area. There’s the Wal-Mart area up on north Kansas Expressway, the hotels on north Glenstone. Then there’s a quadrant that’s southwest that kind of bridges the city out into the county. Those hot spots are in every quadrant of the city. … We did a new crime reporting map with www.crimereports.com, right from the city’s Web site, www.springfieldmo.gov. People can check crime in their area or specific crimes throughout the city.

Pension fund and city budget issues led to staff cutbacks and a hiring freeze. How are staffing levels now?
We’re not full staff now, but because of the pension tax that got passed, that freed up money in the general fund to hire some Police officers. There is an academy class going on right now of 20 officers (who will) graduate in December. We got (a) grant, which provided funding for 15 officers for the next three years, so we’re going to make a class in January of 25 people. (Those 45) would, if no one quit, retired or got fired, get us right to where we are authorized, which is 326 officers. (That) sounds like a pretty good number, but the International Association of Chiefs of Police-mandated benchmark is two officers per 1,000 population for any community. We’re at about 1.75 right now, and I’m anxious for the census numbers.

How do businesses fit with overall law enforcement?
(Businesses) support their neighborhoods, and sometimes, they are the focal point of the neighborhood … or the economic base for that area. … Working with the business community along with the residential community is where we need to be focused. Because we operate on sales tax – like it or not – as businesses grow and receipts improve, that gives us funding to do some of the things we’re trying to do, like hire people back. (That) makes it safer in the community, which then drives up the businesses.

How can business owners help prevent crime?
I’d really encourage businesses to take advantage of (our) officer trained in crime prevention through environmental design. … We can come out and look at your business and (show) where to put lighting, fencing, restructure your entryway or just trim the bushes (so) it wouldn’t be as susceptible to crime. The second thing is that we take a lot of reports of internal theft or crime through fraud or misuse of resources. And a lot of times, businesses are hesitant to call, because they want to handle it internally, or they don’t want to bring attention to themselves. … I would encourage those businesses to come forward and talk to us about it. Let us investigate it (and) help you put those safeguards in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
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