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Thursday morning at 9:00, Paul Williams will be sworn as the Chief of the Springfield Police Department. KSMU’s Missy Shelton sat down with him Wednesday to talk about his new job.
Shelton: I’m sitting here with the new police chief Paul Williams. He’s getting ready to start his job here in Springfield. What do you think is the biggest that you’ll be facing in this position?Williams: I think the biggest challenge will be the transition period. Major Hartman has done a great job for the last six months filling in but the department has been in neutral, waiting for the new chief. The challenge of the economy and some crime issues, I think, kind of dovetail with me stepping in. The biggest challenge is getting everyone on board and me figuring out where I want to go. I’ve got some ideas. I had a great staff meeting this morning with my new staff. I think the department’s running smoothly right now. I’m going to continue that and take it to another level.Shelton: In terms of crime, what are some of the top concerns that you want to pay attention to?Williams: I’ve done some preliminary checking and realized there’s a lot of theft in this community. So, that’s going to be a focus. Air conditioner thefts have spiked. We’ve had about 55 in the last month. It’s working with some of the recyclers and trying to identify some suspects and stem that tide. There’s an increase in meth labs. Just had a report this morning that we’ve had 33 labs discovered so far this year, as opposed to 13 last year. So, overall theft and the drug issue are probably the two main things we’re going to focus on. The folks here have already identified those and I’m just going to make sure they have the resources to get after it.Shelton: Do you have enough to staff to meet the demands of what’s happening here in the city?Williams: The officers here in Springfield have been doing a great job with less. They will continue to do that. So, do we have enough to meet the demands? Yes. Do we have enough to do all the extra things people expect of us? No. So, we will continue to focus on those core issues, responding to 911 calls, making sure people are safe and secure. Then, as we add people, we can add back those extra duties, extra things we’d like to do, for example, opening up the south side station, providing some more detectives, and re-putting back staff into the Community Oriented Policing Officers program. Every officer I’ve talked to wants those people back. The citizens want them back but we don’t have the staff to do that right now. We welcomed an academy class of 23. We’ve already had one quit, so we’re down to 22. We’re about 40 people down, though. Simple math: We’re still 17 people down even when these graduate. I’ve been told the attrition here is about two people per month. So, 20-24 people per year. All that the academy does is keep up with attrition. So, for the next year or two, unless we keep having academies, we’re going to stay in this same situation. I’m looking two years down the road. If I can continue to get funding and applicants, we’ll get back up to where we should be and be adding back positions in the next couple of years.Shelton: In terms of the ongoing back-and-forth between the city and the unions, the associations over the pension issue. Does that present morale problems? Is that something you’re going to be addressing?Williams: I’m going to help wherever I can. I think it’s a huge morale issue, from the information I’ve been gathering from the officers since I was named the chief. But I think there’s been a couple of very positive things: The vote by the citizens to step forward and help fix the problem by agreeing to the three-quarters cent sales tax for the next five years, to help fund that. Then, secondly, the vote by the council to finish correcting the problem and adhere to the promise that I think the officers felt was made months ago, that they would take the telecom settlement money, put it in there, and help bridge the gap. I think those are two very positive things that will help morale. I have had discussions with some folks from the SPOA (Springfield Police Officers Association) and that is the prevailing opinion from the officers and the union that we’re moving in the right direction. I hope we can put that behind us. I hope there’s nothing I need to jump into or step into. I’m thankful that got done before I got here so we can start fresh and move forward on how we’re going to handle those things in the future.Shelton: What would be your message as you’re starting this new position to the citizens of Springfield?Williams: I think the citizens need to realize they have a wonderful police department, not just the sworn officers but the non-sworn employees. There are a lot of great people working here who are very passionate, love working here and love this city. That’s going to continue. I’m really ready and willing to be a part of that. I’m very passionate about my job. I’m now very passionate about the city of Springfield and the Springfield Police Department. Take that message to the citizens that we’re going to do everything we can to make sure you’re safe and secure. If there are any issues or concerns whatsoever, feel free to contact the Springfield Police Department or me directly and we’ll take care of it.