A police officer exits their police car
Police Area Representative (PAR) Officer John VanGordon. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Putting more police officers on Springfield’s streets is a concept just about every candidate for mayor and the City Council can agree on. Accomplishing that task, Police Chief Paul Williams can attest, is an arduous walk uphill both ways.

“It’s kind of a plus and minus,” Williams said. “The bad news is I had three retirements and three resignations in March.”

Eighteen new police officers graduated from the Springfield Police Academy March 17. Fifteen men and three women brought the Springfield Police Department’s staffing total to 319 sworn officers and 49 vacancies.

On July 1, 2022, the Springfield City Council adopted a police department budget for 368 uniformed and sworn officers. At the time, Springfield had 320 uniformed officers on the job. The staffing level reached 324 by the end of 2022.

The 2023 Springfield Police Department budget includes pay raises and benefit enhancements for employees. The department’s overall budget for 2023 is about $50.39 million, a year-to-year increase just shy of $5 million.

It costs approximately $65,000 per year to pay and insure a Springfield police officer, on the average.

A man sits in a crowded room, smiling
Springfield chief of police Paul Williams listened quietly during the NAACP-sponsored forum on police brutality at Pitts Chapel Church. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

The 2023 budget for the City of Springfield has $444.9 million in estimated revenue and $444.9 million in estimated expenses. At $50.39 million, the Springfield Police Department is the third-most expensive of all city government departments, trailing the Department of Environmental Services ($69.75 million) and the Department of Public Works ($61.1 million).

Williams hopes to have 25 cadets on board when the next academy begins in June. Some future cadets are already working for the police department in non-sworn roles.

“We’ve already hired five folks that are working assisting in records, and with investigations and with quartermaster — wherever throughout the department — to give them a little feel for what it’s like here,” Williams said.

Thirteen more candidates are confirmed for the next academy class, for a total of 18. 

Williams said a monthly testing program and a revamped recruiting effort are helping to draw interest to the Springfield Police Department.

“We had 37 letters of interest or folks who submitted interest cards based on that nationwide recruiting effort,” Williams said. “Nine of those have already submitted applications, so that’ll be coming. We’ll continue that moving forward into 2024.”

Incumbent Ken McClure vs. Challenger Melanie Bach

Two candidates for mayor, a man and a woman, sit side-by-side at a community forum
Mayoral candidate Melanie Bach, left, listens to Springfield Mayor Ken McClure at the forum. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Mayor Ken McClure pointed out how, in late 2021, the Springfield City Council allocated retention pay for police officers, $2,000 per year for three years. There is also a lateral hiring program that provides benefit incentives to retired police officers to return to work.

“The other aspect that is really starting to pay dividends started a year ago, but that’s a nationwide concerted effort on recruitment,” McClure said. “That’s saying, ‘Springfield is a pretty good place. We’ll pay you well, we’ll take good care of you, we have a community that is supportive of where you want to be.’”

Melanie Bach spent the first 30 years of her life in Memphis, Tennessee. She holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a law degree from the University of Memphis. After her family moved to Springfield, she worked as a records clerk in the Greene County Sheriff’s Office.

Bach favors more efforts to create community-based policing, which would involve police officers working with neighborhood groups on a formal level.

“I think it would be great if the police department could give a stipend to a police officer in each established neighborhood and provide that would put them on a public safety committee on the neighborhood association board,” Bach said. “If anything happened in that neighborhood, you would have a point of contact to draw on the resources of that neighborhood.” 

Current crime trends

A group of 18 new police officers pose in three rows for a photo
New Springfield police officers after being sworn in. (Photo provided by Springfield Police Department)

National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) data for Springfield shows vehicle theft and reports of items being stolen from motor vehicles both declined in the first two months of 2023. However, that doesn’t mean thieves took off the first two months of the year.

“Burglaries, both residential and mainly commercial burglaries, increased dramatically the first part of this year, and we’re going to put some efforts in place to hopefully stem that tide,” Williams said. 

For the first time in three years, no one was reported shot in the city of Springfield for an entire month.

“In the month of February, nobody was shot and we had less shots fired calls,” Williams said.

In the first two weeks of March, Springfield police investigated 12 shots fired calls. Five persons were shot, and three shootings occurred in one weekend.

“The good news, if there is good news on that, is we solved all of those shootings, put three people in jail, and no one has died as of this point from those shootings,” Williams said.

On March 20, Williams told the City Council he suspended operations in the municipal warrants division, which was funded with overtime pay for officers willing to work to serve municipal warrants for people who didn’t show up to court upon being charged with crimes.

Training continues after academy

Two police officers walk through a wooded area
P.A.R. Ofc. John VanGordon and Ofc. Lauren Witty are at a possible homeless encampment. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Employee attraction and employee retention are two different matters at times, and that brought up a question for Williams from Zone 2 City Councilman Abe McGull. The attorney and former U.S. Navy officer runs unopposed for reelection in April, but has attended candidate forums and discussed police department staffing at several campaign stops. McGull asked about continuous training for police officers, whom he first lauded with praise.

“I interact with them out in the community, I see them, they’re doing their jobs,” McGull said. “One of my concerns is I know we’re getting a lot of people in, but I also want us to be like the tip of the spear to be always sharp, and I want to know what type of internal training we’re doing.” 

Williams told McGull the state of Missouri requires police officers to have a minimum of 24 hours of in-service training per year, and some of that is required to be specialized in certain areas of law enforcement. Springfield officers, Williams said, take between 50 and 60 hours of training on a yearly basis, through a combination of in-house training and through a national service called Police1.

“I consider our inservice and our ongoing training at the top of the heap across the state,” Williams said. “We just were audited and reaccredited by the (Missouri Police Officer Standards and Training) Commission, and that’s exactly what they stated in their review, was that this was one of the finest training programs in the state. We ought to be proud of what we have.”

Rance Burger

Rance Burger is the managing editor for the Daily Citizen. He previously covered local governments from February 2022 to April 2023. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger