As St. Charles County celebrated the 200-year anniversary of its creation in 2012, the goals of the national movement, begun after World War II, to bring more professionalism to law enforcement had largely been achieved within the St. Charles County Sheriff ’s Department. The remaining step was to remove the last vestiges of politics from the department by establishing a County Police Department, with an appointed chief who served at the pleasure of the elected County Executive and County Council. The events leading up to and following this transition are chronicled in “The Star Between the Rivers: The History of the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department, 1805-2015,” published by the County in 2015. Following is an abbreviated chapter from the book, along with an update on the successes of the County Police Department over the last three years.
In 2012, the national movement to bring more college-educated rank and file into law enforcement continued in the St. Charles County Sheriff ’s Department. Many deputy sheriffs, mandated by Missouri law to be certified by the Department of Public Safety’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission, were attaining their college and advanced degrees. St. Charles County’s Tuition Assistance Program had paid almost $240,000 to 49 officers in the Sheriff ’s Department from its inception in 1998 until 2014. Patrol deputies especially were given, and encouraged to take advantage of, opportunities to improve their training and advance their careers in law enforcement.
The promoters of professional law enforcement continued to stress fair treatment of the public, limited discretion in enforcing traffic and other laws, adherence to policies and procedures, pride in service to the public, as well as chain of command. Another goal of the reformers was the application of modern technology. The St. Charles County Sheriff ’s Department had the only county-owned, operated and accredited crime lab in Missouri. It provided forensic analysis of evidence submitted from all the law enforcement agencies in the county. The Cyber Crime Division conducted forensic analyses of computers suspected to contain evidence of crimes. The County supported participation in the Metro Air Support Unit, which had grown to include one fixed-wing aircraft and six helicopters. The department’s five-member, federally certified Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Unit and its regional SWAT team were equipped with the latest technology.
For 70 years the reformers had pushed for complete independence from partisan politics. Since January 1, 2010, Missouri had required county sheriffs, but not candidates for the office, to have a Missouri Peace Officer’s License before they could perform any law enforcement function. Otherwise, there were no requirements, other than residency within the county and being a registered voter, to be a candidate for the office of county sheriff. In 2012, Sheriff Neer asked the County Council to send to the voters a charter amendment creating a St. Charles County Police Department headed by a professionally qualified appointed police chief. Neer argued it would ensure that policing the unincorporated areas was overseen by people with professional qualifications. The elected sheriff and his or her department would remain in charge of security at the courthouse, transporting prisoners and service of court documents within the county.
Under the proposal, the police chief would be required to have a college degree or equivalent and at least 15 years in law enforcement, including six years of “highly responsible management and supervisor experience.” Also required would be training at the FBI National Academy or a similar program or “commensurate experience.” To ensure that an unqualified police chief was not chosen for personal or political reasons, the proposal called for the county executive to appoint a five-member panel, composed of county citizens representing the education, civic, business and law enforcement communities, to interview and screen applicants. They would choose five finalists from which the county executive would name a chief, subject to approval by the County Council, which would also set the salary.
Sheriff Neer explained the costs would be offset by savings. The duties of the current 223 deputies and civilian workers would not change, as 180 moved over to the new police department, which would start in January 2015. Neer predicted the change would cost only $97,000 − to change uniforms and badges and re-label police cars. The money would come from the department’s asset forfeiture fund. With an appointed chief of police, the public would not have to wait until the next election to see a change when necessary. At the same time, to guarantee some protection against political pressure from the administration and County Council, the appointed chief could only be removed with the votes of five council members and the approval of the county executive.
Backers argued the measure would remove law enforcement from politics when a sheriff was up for re-election, often against one or more of his employees. Police chiefs in O’Fallon, St. Peters and Lake Saint Louis joined Neer at a County Council meeting in support of the proposal. Supporters, however, did not form a committee, and the campaign amounted to speaking appearances and news media interviews by Sheriff Neer. Opponents argued the change would eliminate direct citizen involvement in determining who runs a key county government function. An opposition group, Save Our Sheriff (SOS), called a meeting attended by more than 100 people. Opponents included the deputies’ association and several of its members, who wanted to continue to have a say in the election of their boss.
Those opposed to the police department, including SOS, attempted to collect enough signatures on an initiative petition to ask the voters to reverse their previous decision at the election in November 2014. After they were unsuccessful, and the time had passed during which the County Council could have put the issue back on the ballot, the county executive directed the Department of Human Resources to advertise the position of St. Charles County Chief of Police.
The county executive appointed the committee of five individuals to screen candidates and send him five names from which to choose. The committee included Virginia Busch, an attorney who lived in unincorporated St. Charles County; Dan Dozier, former superintendent of the Orchard Farm School District, the area of which was mostly unincorporated and would rely on the county police for law enforcement; T.R. “Tom” Hughes, a businessman who had served as a police officer in St. Charles; Ryan Ludwig, a captain in the St. Louis County Police Department, and a resident of unincorporated St. Charles County; and Nancy Matheny, a former member of the County Council who was familiar with the law enforcement budget.
In October 2014, the committee, chaired by Dr. Dan Dozier, interviewed 10 candidates and began to deliberate. They provided the county executive with five names on November 7. After interviewing the five individuals, the county executive recommended Captain Dave Todd, an officer with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and 15 years of command-level experience who had risen through the ranks during his 37 years with the department. In his leadership positions over the years, he had encouraged technological advances, while demanding professionalism, adherence to policies and procedures, and respect for the chain of command. The County Council unanimously confirmed him as police chief in December. Dave Tiefenbrunn and Tom Koch were promoted to captains, replacing Captain Todd and Captain Wes Simcox who had retired. Officer Tim MacMann became the SWAT Unit Commander. The County Police Department remained in the facility on Sheriff Dierker Court in O’Fallon while Sheriff’s Department staff moved to the County Administration Building to be closer to the courthouse.
Three years after the transition, the County Police Department continues to evolve with the changing needs of our community and law enforcement, as well as build upon past successes. One of the department’s biggest accomplishments occurred earlier this year with Advanced Accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA®). The department became the eighth law enforcement agency in the St. Louis area, and the 13th in the state, to receive the prestigious accreditation. CALEA is a credentialing authority established through the joint efforts of law enforcement’s major executive associations: International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP); National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE); National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). CALEA’s voluntary, yet rigorous, accreditation process is internationally recognized as the gold standard in public safety. The Tier II, or Advanced Accreditation, by CALEA includes 484 possible standards. A team of assessors from CALEA spent four days on site evaluating every aspect of the department. To maintain accreditation, the department will continue with electronic off-site reviews annually and on-site reviews every four years.
Opportunities to improve training to better serve the community continues to be important to the department. Police officers now complete mandatory Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) where they learn how to identify and serve individuals with complex mental health issues. Additionally, all commissioned officers are trained in de-escalation techniques, use of force scenarios, officer safety and communication skills. In 2015, officers were among the first in the area trained and authorized to carry and administer NARCAN®, which helps those who overdose on heroin. Officers have deployed the opioid reversal medication 55 times since 2015.
Opening this fall is the County’s Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, located behind the Police Department in O’Fallon. The facility will bring all the County’s emergency communications functions together, including the County Police Department’s Division of Emergency Management and the Department of Emergency Communications (police/fire/EMS dispatch) to allow for a more coordinated and efficient response during an emergency. The hardened structure can withstand an EF-4 tornado, protecting the services and investment in the equipment and infrastructure housed in the facility and allowing operations to continue during a crisis situation.
The growth of the county and increased expectations on law enforcement led to needed renovations of the department’s facilities in 2017. This included addition of evidence storage for the Forensic Services Division. Evidence can be disposed only when a case is complete and sentences have been served, and there are some types of evidence that have to be kept indefinitely. The continuing growth of the county necessitated the expansion. Additionally, new officer briefing, media briefing and training rooms were added. As training requirements for police officers have increased, creating an environment to host regional and national training is a cost-effective measure. Taxpayer dollars are saved on registration and travel by hosting, and more police staff will have the opportunity to engage in advanced training opportunities to better serve the public.
With the prevalence of internet crimes, the department’s Cyber Crime Task Force continues to analyze more and more data. In 2017, the task force became one of only three in the nation to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for cybercrime investigations. The year before, the task force welcomed Bonnie, the only Electronic Storage Detection (ESD) K-9 officer in the Midwest region. She is trained to detect a chemical found in electronics such as computers, DVDs and mobile devices when searching for hidden evidence in cyber crime investigations.
Community outreach and education efforts to enhance positive relationships with the community have developed dramatically since the department was established in 2015. Highlights include the hiring of a dedicated Public Affairs Officer; launch of department Facebook and Twitter pages; the annual open house program; and the Citizen Police Academy. The department also developed its Substance Tobacco Alcohol Resistance Training educational program, otherwise known as S.T.A.R.T. The program is taught by Community Education Officers to fifth and sixth graders and focuses on issues facing youth in St. Charles County.
Two of the primary reasons people move to St. Charles County are quality schools and safe neighborhoods. I’d like to thank the men and women of the St. Charles County Police Department, as well as the Sheriff’s Department, Corrections, and Prosecuting Attorney, for working diligently day in and day out to keep citizens safe.