Guest Column: Boosting The Image Of Police, One Department At A Time

I recently had the privilege of a ride-along with my city’s Police Chief – Kevin Scott. It was a great experience to learn about the department and the direction of our community. I want to share what I learned about the police department because I think it’s pretty special, and to critics of police policies and tactics it offers hope for the future.

I did not have police officers in my family, and have only personally met a few through friends over the years. So I was pretty intimidated and almost afraid of asking to meet with my Chief. However, in 2017 I have made it a personal priority to do whatever I can to help address implicit bias in my community. In tranquil, tidy Ballwin, bias exists (I have bias – we all do…) and it can only help to address it so that we can be our best selves, making sure everyone is treated equally and well in our city.

When Chief Scott agreed to meet with me, he knew that this agenda was important to me. He answered my request anyway. I wasn’t sure that would happen, but it did.

Chief Scott has been actively working on improvements to the department because he sees that less and less people want to be police officers. He wants to change that. He wants to change the fact that being a police officer is seen as a negative career choice. Beyond the threat of losing one’s life, public perception of officers also drives this feeling of negativity. Chief Scott understands that a shift needs to be made in the business of policing before a career in law enforcement is once again seen in a positive light. He also wants to attract the best officers to work in his department.

To that end, Chief Scott is working to give his officers opportunities for professional advancement through training in special areas such as arson, advanced drug investigation exposure and so on. In this way, he and his administrative team are being sure to offer provide them with areas of ownership in the organization. Ownership promotes best practices. This is the new business model successful businesses use today – in the 21st Century. Instead of just being a cog in a machine, officers are empowered by those additional responsibilities, and the hierarchical structure of the department is being flattened. Chief Scott informed me this is intentional, with the ultimate goal of eliminating the “quasi-military” structure and replacing it with a customer-based organizational model.

I was kind of taken aback when I heard this – it was the last thing I expected to hear. It was kind of exciting! The fact that he sees the department as an asset to the community instead of a necessary byproduct of crime reduction services, an asset that will be attractive to future residents, (and no doubt, raising our property value) is very cool because we – you, me, and the family next door – are the customers. I didn’t know that police officers could see us this way.

There are many other ways Chief Scott and his team are setting up the Ballwin PD for ongoing and increasing success.

First, the department has proudly elevated one of the detectives as a member of the County Drug task force, which in turn provides Ballwin PD with extra resources when they need them.

Another detective has the added responsibility of processing all Ballwin reports and coding them in compliance with the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting standards. In doing this, she is the single person to see each and every report. This birds-eye view of crime in Ballwin has allowed her to turn information over to the FBI which led to two FBI investigations.

Another great thing about the Ballwin PD is that it is one of the very few departments to have their own in-house call center, and 911 calls go directly to dispatch staff who know the officers personally and who know the streets and neighborhoods. I would imagine this improves the safety of the officers a thousand percent. I’m so happy to learn we haven’t outsourced this service for our first responders.

I also learned that Ballwin also actually has a forensics lab in the station, and can run much of its forensics work in the station. How great is that?

They also have a detective, Scott Stephens, who spends a great deal of time educating the residents of what is going on in Ballwin via the police department and building relationships that way too.

Ballwin PD also embraces the use of technology in other ways. The Ballwin Police Administrative team has implemented the use of a Not for Profit Program, Behavioral Health Response, which provides mental health experts via iPad to interview suspects and victims to assess their mental health, supporting the officers at the scene. . Most people don’t realize that the police spend a lot of hours dealing with mental health issues. This saves the officers time they would otherwise be tied up at hospital emergency rooms with suspects or victims who may later do harm to themselves or someone else. Ballwin PD has embraced the benefits of this services when others have not, and a byproduct is better service, more support, and increased transparency.

Chief Scott demands excellence and wants he department and its officers recognized for it. To this end, he has prioritized having the department be State Certified. This also is unusual. Most departments decline to go through the rigorous standards and the plethora of paperwork it requires. I’m glad he does. This brings accountability AND recognition.

All in all, my impression was that Chief Scott is working to make sure that his department is not stuck in the past, but looking to use and adapt best practices from other businesses and careers, to be a police department that is up to speed with the changes of our world and the expectations of the citizens of Ballwin.

One of the recommendations of the Ferguson Report was to increase Community Policing. Chief Scott is doing just that, and I thank him. Ride-alongs with Ballwin residents like me, periodic “Coffee With A Cop” events, and information nights that are open to the public are ways the department is creating opportunities to partner with residents.

Nationally and in St. Louis, there is certainly room for improvement and education between police and the people they protect and serve, as there is in all areas of our lives. I am personally saddened that this simple fact seems to create a need for the police community to position themselves in opposition to the honest self-evaluation all people should strive for in their personal lives and in their jobs.  Successful businesses seek out and invest in customer-based best practices and partnerships to ensure ongoing success.  We want police to be successful. We need police to protect and serve, we need them to do it the best way possible, we need all communities to be part of that equation, and we need more Police Chiefs like Kevin Scott.

And Ballwin will remain “One of America’s Best Places to Live.”*

Helena Webb

Ballwin, MO


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