In an effort to better reach the community, the Bolivar Police Department has implemented a new policing strategy, having leaders focus on specific areas of the city.
Under the new plan, Lt. Roger Barron is responsible for the north bureau — the area of town north of South Street — and Lt. Zach Palmer covers the south bureau — the area south of South Street.
Each lieutenant will handle “all the businesses, all the neighborhoods, all the problems or concerns that may happen” in their respective areas, Barron said.
The department instituted the change last month.
Palmer said the system is designed “to help build partnerships and trust within the community.”
“The idea is we have one particular person — one face, one name — for the citizens to come to when they have concerns about what’s going on,” Barron said. “Basically, they have their own cop they know they can go and talk to, to give information.”
For the time being, patrol officers and detectives will continue to work as normal, covering the entire city.
“But, when we do have concerns from the community that come in, we can now have a better and more efficient way of handling those, so we can direct patrols to those areas during uncommitted times,” Barron said.
Palmer and Barron said the strategy works hand-in-hand with the department’s record management system, which offers a problem-oriented policing module.
“When we get a concern that comes into us, or a neighborhood presents a problem they would like us to work on, we enter that information into our RMS system,” Barron said. “And we can actually assign tasks to an officer or groups of officers with what we want them to do.”
As the officers work through their tasks, helping to resolve and mitigate problems, they enter updates in the system.
“They can note that they met with the neighborhood watch captain and received more information, or that they spent four hours on a Friday night patrolling a neighborhood,” Barron said. “It’s another way that helps us keep track of what’s going on.”
He said the records management system also offers a crime analysis tool based on reports and calls for service.
With that tool, Lt. Steve VanTassell runs reports for Barron and Palmer at least once a week.
“With this, we don’t have to wait for the citizens to call in,” Barron said. “We can look at patterns of crime and calls for service, and we can help figure those things out on our own.”
In fact, Barron said the crime analysis tool can give officers crime projections.
“If we have one particular crime that’s occurring, this program can lead us to look at where the next one might occur,” he said.
He said the information is more general than specific, telling officers to check a geographic area of the city on certain days during set windows of time.
Bolivar Police Chief Mark Webb said the method gives officers “more timely information.”
“We don’t have to wait for next month’s stats,” he said. “It won’t be down to the hour or the minute, but it’ll be within a day or so. That way, the city and everybody will be on the same page. It’s more timely and accurate information.”
Webb said the lieutenants also meet with him, fellow officers and community partners once a week to go over what’s happening in Bolivar.
“We want to work together and build each other up to do better,” Webb said. “We’re all working together, and information is shared with everyone. To keep on top of it instead of having things slide through the cracks.”
Eyes and ears on the ground
Barron said BPD’s initiative is loosely based on the New York Police Department’s CompStat program, which was developed in the 1990s and uses computer statistics to track crime.
“The traditional CompStat program is all crime-based,” he said. “We’re looking to be more community-based.”
He said Bolivar PD wants to look at quality of life issues, not just crime.
Working on those issues requires an entire community effort, particularly at a time when the department has struggled to remain fully staffed.
Barron said BPD currently has three new officers in field training.
“We’re still very limited on how many staff we can have out on the road at any particular time,” he said. “We are being as efficient as we can be with the resources we’re being allowed. With the limited people that we have, we really appreciate the citizens’ help with their eyes and their ears on what we’re missing.”
One way people can reach Bolivar PD with crime information or quality of life concerns is through the department’s information email at email@example.com.
Barron called the email the department’s “central repository of information.”
VanTassell will collect information there and pass it on to Barron and Palmer.
“It’s a way to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks, or at least have less of a chance of falling through the cracks,” Barron said.
Barron said people can also access the police department’s community survey online at the Bolivar PD webpage at bolivar.mo.us/police-department-3.
In the survey, residents can list their concerns.
“Those surveys are regularly monitored,” he said. “They help us know what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong.”
Barron said while people calling 911 to report criminal activity may not always see an immediate officer response, there is also value to that type of contact.
“There may be other things we have to do, but at least we have knowledge of what that problem is,” he said.
Barron said at times, officers may observe situations from afar.
“So someone may report drug activity, for example,” Barron said. “We may not want to be very visible, because if we want to catch the bad guys doing what they’re doing, we don’t want to have a police car just sitting in the neighborhood. We may want to sit back a little bit and see what we see as it comes in.”
Regardless of how people contact the department, Barron said effective policing is “a group effort.”
“We can’t do everything,” he said. “We rely on the citizens to help us out with that, because it’s their community. We’re really trying to take on more of that caretaker role. Let us know what’s going on, so we can see what we can do to help out.”
On the horizon
While the response from patrol officers and detectives may look the same for the time being, Barron said eventually the department would like to expand the policing method.
“Eventually, we would like to have a detective assigned to the north bureau and a detective assigned to the south bureau,” he said.
For the time being, Barron said BPD will continue to find ways to improve.
“We’re always looking to make our department more efficient, more effective and more professional,” he said.
Community buy-in is key, he said.
“We’re lucky to be in the community that we’re in where we do still see a lot of support from the community,” he said. “Not every place across the country can say that.”
Barron said the new model is a work in progress and may require adjustments along the way.
But, he said, there’s no harm in trying new policing methods.
“If we don’t change up our tactics every now and then, or the way we approach things, we don’t know if we can be more effective than we are,” Barron said. “To steal a line from Chief, we can always go back to the way we were doing things, but we never know until we try.”
Webb said for now, the department is feeling its way through the changes.
“It’s just getting started,” he said. “We’ll learn what works for Bolivar.”