Police Area Representative (PAR) Officer John VanGordon. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

First in a series of in-depth reports on key issues facing the city of Springfield and on candidates seeking city positions in the April 4 election.

If you’re walking through your neighborhood, driving home from work or sitting in your living room at the end of a long day, there’s a certain expectation of security.

Springfield Police Department data, as reported through the National Incident-Based Reporting System, shows a year-over-year decline in the number of crimes reported from 22,301 in 2021 to 18,442 in 2022. Crimes against persons, which includes all violent crimes, dropped by 323 reports, a 5.7-percent drop. Property crimes, which include theft and theft from vehicles, dropped by about 21.7 percent.

Safety continues to be a focus for many residents and candidates — and views differ on where Springfield should go from here.

Three positions on the Springfield City Council and the mayor’s office are at stake in the municipal elections April 4, 2023. One of the Springfield City Council’s responsibilities is to provide oversight to the people tasked with making Springfield a safer place to live and work. Whether they are running with analytical data, a gut feeling, or likely, a combination of both, candidates all have ideas for what “public safety” means to Springfield, and what it means as a campaign term.

Mayor: Ken McClure (incumbent) vs. Melanie Bach

Ken McClure

Springfield Mayor Ken McClure at the dedication of the Roy Blunt Terminal at the Springfield-Branson National Airport. (Photo by David Stoeffler)

Occupation: Mayor of Springfield/retired vice president for administrative services at Missouri State University

Why he’s running: “We’re dealing with a post-pandemic environment, and that makes things almost unprecedented,” McClure said. “How do we make sure that we continue to progress, to continue to make good growth decisions, good economic decisions, good social decisions, good neighborhood decisions? And that’s a different challenge than we’ve had to face before.”

Ken McClure was elected to the Springfield City Council in 2015, and then elected mayor in 2017. He was elected to a third term in April 2021, and that term expires in April 2023. By city charter, a mayor may not serve more than four consecutive two-year terms.

McClure said his priority for public safety is to encourage enough hiring in the Springfield Police Department and the Springfield Fire Department for both to reach fully staffed status.

“The vacancy levels are improving, but we’ve got a long way to go,” McClure said. “We need a fully staffed police department, and I believe we can do that in the next two years.”

McClure said the understaffing level for police officers has been cut by a third in the past year, largely aided by the Springfield Police Department’s academy program. 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.’”

McClure said Springfield needs to reach a point where people feel safe in their homes, businesses, houses of worship, recreation sites and shopping centers.

McClure worked as a transition director and then chief of staff for Gov. Matt Blunt in the mid-2000s. He also served as a staff director and budget analyst for the Missouri Senate Committee on Appropriations from 1974-1981. He occasionally travels to Jefferson City to meet with state lawmakers on matters concerning Springfield.

McClure supports the passage of 2023 Missouri House Bill 301, an omnibus public safety bill that passed the Missouri House and awaits consideration in the Senate. McClure recounted a meeting he had with Missouri Speaker of the House Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, about House Bill 301.

“He said, ‘Well, your crime rate is going up,’ and I said, ‘Well, let me interrupt you; no, the numbers are going down,’” McClure said. “We still have challenges, but the numbers are going down.”

Among its provisions, House Bill 301 would create a state-funded tuition reimbursement program for persons who undergo training to become law enforcement agents. The bill’s provisions allow for a 25 percent reimbursement per year for four years, which would allow certified officers to recoup the costs of their training in full if they work in law enforcement for four years.

McClure said the monthly briefings Police Chief Paul Williams provides to the Springfield City Council have become invaluable, and they provide the nine members of the council the chance to ask questions from a place of general oversight.

“There’s really good questions coming out of there,” McClure said. “And what happens, too, is he’s not just talking to Council, he’s talking to the community, and that’s the biggest value that I see in it.”

Melanie Bach

Melanie Bach. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Occupation: Neighborhood organizer/former records clerk

Why she’s running: “I am ready to rebuild trust between the city and our citizens,” Bach said. “I feel like there is a level of trust that’s been lost. People do feel disregarded and marginalized, for the most part, when they’re dealing with city government, and I want us to rebuild that level of trust.”

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. She worked in the district attorney’s office in Memphis, helping to guide crime victims and witnesses through the court process. She was pregnant when she graduated from law school. Bach took the Tennessee bar exam and passed, but did not begin practicing law.

“I just stayed inactive, because I was staying at home with my child,” Bach said. “About that time, Memphis was just getting very dangerous. I mean, we’re talking 300 murders a year, and I had seen a lot working at the district attorney’s office in Memphis, as well.”

After their second child was born, Bach and her husband decided to leave Memphis and move to Springfield. Her husband works for BNSF. Safety was a key motivator for the family move.

“We did a little trip to see what it was like up here, and we were just amazed at people — how happy they are, and the beautiful, natural environment of Springfield,” Bach said. “It was like Utopia for us.”

The Bach family settled in Galloway Village, and she homeschooled all three kids. Bach started volunteering as an election judge with the Greene County Clerk’s Office. She also took a part-time job as a records clerk with the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. She worked there for six years. She resigned from that office to run for mayor.

“The biggest influencer on my view on public safety is having grown up in a high-crime city and having moved to a low-crime city to watch it become one of the higher-crime cities,” Bach said. “It’s been really heartbreaking to watch that happen, and I don’t feel like we’ve had quite enough proactive policing being done.”

Bach helped organize a neighborhood watch association in the Galloway Village neighborhood. 

That led to one of the largest training sessions for a neighborhood watch group in Springfield, with about 100 people in attendance.

“I know the resources are low and everything, but one of my priorities is to make sure we’re engaging communities and allowing them to assist where needed, because I think the connected communities like Galloway Village are a potentially huge asset to lower the need for resources with our police department,” Bach said.

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 (incentive 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.”

Zone 3: David Nokes vs. Brandon Jenson (southwest Springfield, replacing Mike Schilling)

David Nokes

David Nokes (Photo provided by candidate)

Occupation: Retired police officer

Why he’s running: “Citizens supported me for 28 years in Springfield, being an officer, this is a time to pay back,” Nokes said. “It’s a tough job. I’m just excited to be back involved in a leadership position where I can make a difference. It sounds corny, but I can make a difference in this city.”

Retired police officer David Nokes said his law enforcement background naturally lends him to examine societal issues “through a lens of public safety.”

“Crime and crime prevention are always top — homelessness is right there, too,” Nokes said.

Nokes worked 23 years with the Springfield Police Department, and then five years with the Springfield-Branson National Airport Police Department. He then spent seven years as a probation and parole officer. He said he learned a great deal about Springfield’s most vulnerable populations in his seven years of employment with the Missouri Department of Corrections.

“Basically, a P.O.’s job is to provide resources for people who are either put on probation by the court, or they’re put on by parole,” Nokes said. “What you do is you provide them resources, try to get them assimilated back into the community so they can be crime-free.”

Working on a different side of law enforcement, Nokes said, gave him a new perspective on Springfield.

“I learned a lot about the resources available in Springfield, and we have a bunch — treatment facilities, mental health providers, employment, Missouri Career Center,” Nokes said. “We try to get them hooked up.”

A big part of being a parole officer, Nokes said, is identifying a person’s basic needs and matching them with the programs and the level of supervision that’s best for them.

“Everybody has individual needs that you have to address so they won’t re-offend,” Nokes said. “A lot of times, some people just don’t want to change. That’s what I learned, too.”

Brandon Jenson

Brandon Jenson (Photo by Rance Burger)

Occupation: Community manager, Missouri Community Development Block Grant program

Why he’s running: “I recognized that my ability to affect change and ensure the change is reflective of what the community says they want is really only possible at the highest level, so at our elected official level,” Jenson said. “My parents always said if you’ve got the skills and the passion to do a job, then that’s the time to do it.”

Brandon Jenson lives in the West Central neighborhood, statistically a high-crime section of Springfield when it comes to both violent crimes and property crimes, like stealing and car theft. For Jenson, “public safety” starts with a personal feeling of security.

“I think everybody wants to live in a place where they feel safe, and that’s the baseline expectation that folks have from their government,” Jenson said.

Jenson watched with interest when Chief Williams made his department’s report to the Springfield City Council Jan. 9. In the report, Williams noted a 17.3-percent overall decrease in the number of crimes reported to police from 2021 to 2022.

“Regardless of whether there’s been a decrease in it, I think everybody would agree that any violent crime is too much in our city,” Jenson continued. “I found it heartening that the police chief was able to share statistics showing that those have decreased.”

Jenson lauded Williams’ efforts to recruit and hire more patrol officers, who are the people who respond when a violent crime is reported. Jenson would like to see more preventative law enforcement.

“I think it pays off more, in the long run, to make sure that we’re trying to intervene before that violent crime happens in the first place,” Jenson said. “One of the best ways to do that is having police officers who are working every single day in a part of the community, making those social connections with homeowners and local business owners.”

The Springfield Police Department has eight zone-specific officers assigned to parts of the city through its Police Area Representative (PAR) officer program.

“These PAR officers are assigned five or six neighborhoods in some cases,” Jenson said. “Those PAR officers — that’s not their main duty. They also have other stuff that they’re responsible for, and so they’re not out walking the beat, making those connections that ultimately will help to drive down violent crime before it even begins.”

General C: Callie Carroll vs. Jeremy Dean (replacing Andrew Lear)

Callie Carroll

Callie Carroll (Photo by Rance Burger)

Occupation: Vice president, business development and shareholder relations officer at Old Missouri Bank

Why she’s running: “Communication and relationship building — if I stood on two platforms of what I bring to the table, that’s it,” Carroll said. “I am an uplifting, optimistic person, and I think even in the climate of now, there are so many things to be proud about in Springfield. We need to put those at the front.”

Callie Carroll gave an interview to the Daily Citizen the day after she did a 12-hour ride-along shift with a Springfield police officer. She said she already respected police officers, but appreciated getting an up-close look at the work they do on a daily basis.

Going into houses where drug users experienced psychotic episodes left a particular impression.

“We walk in, there’s drugs, alcohol, it’s just tough,” Carroll said. “Three of the calls, they were tripping out, and they saw things that weren’t there. The respect that these police officers were giving these people, the patience, they’re like, ‘Buddy, there’s nothing there. You’ve got to sit down; you’ve got to calm down.’”

Carroll joins other candidates in calling for staffing increases in both the Springfield Police Department and the Springfield Fire Department.

“We have got to fully staff our police and firefighters,” Carroll said. “That’s directly related to talent retention and making Springfield a place that people want to live.”

Carroll said Springfield should take advantage of its high population of college students, and find ways to entice those students to want to stay in Springfield to live and work after they graduate. She’s applying that thought to public safety, and many other fields of work.

“Every single industry is dealing with this, and so I think a lot of that has to do with quality of place and investing in your community, and those things that are in Forward SGF,” Carroll said. “There are some awesome things that are going to happen here. I think those are going to make Springfield have that factor that makes people want to live here.”

Jeremy Dean

Jeremy Dean (Photo provided by candidate)

Occupation: Office coordinator in an OB/GYN clinic at CoxHealth

Why he’s running: “I saw myself representing the average Springfieldian, and hadn’t seen that on our actual City Council by most of our representatives for a while,” Dean said. “This race would have gone unopposed had I not run for it, so that was one of the reasons that I did it this year.”

When he hit the campaign trail, Jeremy Dean expected to hear voters’ thoughts on crime and public safety with heavy frequency.

“It doesn’t come up as often as I thought it would, and I really expected it to be a lot,” Dean said. “I do hear people say that they would like to see homelessness really addressed.”

To that end, Dean said he wants to tackle the economic issues often tied to crime.

“I think people understand crime really is not just crime in and of itself. There are usually a lot of other factors that go into it; one of those main things is economic,” Dean said. “I think that’s what most people in Springfield tend to focus on is the economic development, getting people up off of their feet, so they don’t feel like they’re in a position where they feel like they have to make the choices or commit those crimes.”

Dean hopes the City Council can strengthen its relationship with the Springfield Police Department. One way he would like to do that is to increase the amount of communication and consultation that happens in open meetings.

“Once monthly, the chief comes and gives his report,” Dean said. “I think that we could do better with that. Whenever we have our council lunches, we have two council meetings each month, depending on the calendar. I would like to see the chief, or at least a representative at every single one of those official meetings.”

More police presence at City Council meetings, Dean said, could create opportunities for police to weigh in on matters that may concern them.

“I would like to see the Springfield police have more of a voice within our city government, so that we know what they’re seeing on a daily basis, how we can help them, what they need,” Dean said.

General D: Derek Lee vs. Bruce Adib-Yazdi (replacing Richard Ollis)

Derek Lee

Derek Lee (Photo provided by candidate)

Occupation: Civil engineer

Why he’s running: “I have always been involved in service, and so when my kids were little we did everything from foster care to working through our church,” Lee said. “Servant leadership is something that I’ve always done.”

Engineer Derek Lee said public safety issues are the No. 1 concern he gets when he talks with Springfield residents.

Like several of his fellow candidates, Lee noted the January report on an overall decline in crime from the Springfield police chief.

“I was so happy to hear that,” Lee said. “If you look at the previous five years, it wasn’t like that. The trend was the other direction, and so I think one of the things that caused that was the council made that a focus, and that’s the kind of thing that I want to do.”

There is still some crime data Lee finds troubling, and it starts with gunfire.

“On average, there is a shot fired every single day in the city of Springfield, and so I think we’ve got to fix some security,” Lee said.

Lee has personally experienced what the police department categorizes as “crimes against property,” theft, breaking and entering and theft from vehicles. His business office is located near the intersection of National Avenue and Battlefield Road.

“I had to completely change the way I do things,” Lee said. “You cannot leave a vehicle out at night at my office, and you would not think that National and Battlefield is like that, but it is.”

Lee said he experienced multiple cases of having cars broken into and having their catalytic converters stolen. Lee said he called the police to report the catalytic converter theft, and that’s how he learned of a staffing issue in the Springfield Police Department.

“They told me, ‘Derek, there are 2,000 open cases, and there are only two of us working,’” Lee said. “That’s just catalytic converters.”

Lee said he feels staffing levels in the Springfield Police Department are improving, and that one of his goals is to encourage more hiring and growth in the police department.

“My hope is that as we get more staffed, if we fill out the police department, that we can cover more crimes against property,” Lee said.

Bruce Adib-Yazdi

Bruce Adib-Yazdi (Photo by Rance Burger)

Occupation: Architect, Vecino Group

Why he’s running: “I can see what we can be if we can just get out of our own way and think about, as an architect, what’s our vision for what we want to be 20 years from now?”

Architect Bruce Adib-Yazdi also wants Springfield to be able to recruit and employ more police officers.

“Our city has funded a police department that has not yet reached its capacity; we have a higher funding capacity than we have people in our police force,” Adib-Yazdi said.

Hiring is a challenge across all industries, and so Adib-Yazdi wants to see the Springfield Police Department recruit openly and honestly for jobs that are challenging, “finding ways, not just quirky marketing campaigns, but finding ways to really show how rewarding that kind of work can be.”

As Jenson did in Zone 3, Adib-Yazdi brought up the Police Area Representative (PAR) officer program. On top of strengthening the PAR officer program, Adib-Yazdi wants to look at ways to strengthen relationships among Springfield’s neighborhoods.

“I know that if you have a neighborhood that is more cohesive, has a strong neighborhood association, neighbors know the neighbors, you have a group of people who technically have eyes on the street all the time,” Adib-Yazdi said. “They don’t just pull in their driveway and go in their house, right? So when you have strong neighborhoods, you have coalesced neighborhood associations and neighborhood associations, you have less crime because people are watching out for each other.”

In 2022, Burrell Behavioral Health received a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health to create a mobile health crisis unit. Springfield was the only site selected to start such a program. It puts licensed counselors in the field, and they can respond to emergencies alongside police officers. Adib-Yazdi said he supports the long-term future of the mobile mental health responders and hopes the City of Springfield will keep the program going past its pilot phases.

“I feel like the social service component has got to be a parallel track with the enforcement side on those kinds of calls, and having people on staff ready to do that is one of those things I think is important,” Adib-Yazdi said.

Need-to-know info to vote April 4, 2023

Registration ends March 8

Absentee voting began Feb. 21

Information on absentee voting, election regulations and polling locations is available on the Greene County website.

Greene County Clerk-issued sample ballot is also available on the Greene County website.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. 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