Since taking the reins in November 2013, OFallon Police Chief Eric Van Hook has been making strides towards tightening up ship at the OFallon Public Safety Building with reorganization and increasing staff involvement in the community.
"We are in a period where we are still doing an evaluation of existing programs, job assignments, how staff is assigned throughout the department," Van Hook explained. "We are taking a look at all of those areas, like a top-to-bottom evaluation."
According to Van Hook some of the initiatives the Chief and other officials like Mayor Gary Graham, are looking into are ways to approach some patrol performance issues, how we categorize different things.
"As far as we have primary areas with traffic enforcement, which is much more than it seems to be," Van Hook said." Traffic enforcement can range from crime suppression all the way to quality of life issues. With traffic enforcement, we take a lot of bad guys off the street that are wanted, maybe are suspended drivers."
Van Hook said quality of life issues associated with traffic concerns could range from parking issues in neighborhoods, speeding through neighborhoods and crimes like theft to a motor vehicle.
"On several different levels we are trying to increase our overall community involvement," Van Hook said. "It is our top priority to have our officers involved in the community as much as possible. We also would like to be approachable, highly visible and were always looking for new and creative ways to find out how to have a bigger impact with the youth in our community and provide a great presence in our schools.
Van Hook said looking into the roles all the staff play will be beneficial across the board.
You have to have a team approach to this because if you dont one person may get saddled with everything and then the position will be less appealing. We need to spread out responsibility a little more too, Van Hook said. Also, being visible in the community and I know we are getting ready to begin working closely with the command staff. We have public safety meetings surrounded by the OFallon Council, but theres also a lot of additional committee meetings too like development committee, which I think we need to have more of a presence at those meetings too, as well as others, just to have a better understanding of what is going on in the community.
Change is a good thing. Im very fortunate to be surrounded by the quality command staff that I have, Van Hook said. They have made the transition into my new position much easier and they all have a skill set that is second to none, and are always willing to help out and bring new ideas to the table which I really appreciate.
Van Hook hopes to reach out more to OFallons aging community and commercial business partners to encourage positivity and two-way communication.
As OFallon continues to grow commercially, we are looking at introducing and, possibly, sponsoring some safety programs like work place violence prevention programs that we can get out into the community and work with our business owners and try to form a partnership that goes beyond us being called to their business for retail theft and other types of crimes in progress.
Diving in deep to how communication and technology can aid the OPD staff on how to maximize information dissemination about varying crime trends, Van Hook said.
Van Hook also said he intends on continuing to facilitate the relationships the OPD has with other city departments like the Public Works division, which has been helping the OPD to develop a plan on how to get a power source available for plans to erect more cameras.
Weve partnered with Wehrenberg to keep our camera program thriving, Van Hook said. We are open to any organization for strategic places to position these cameras.
So the public understands, we arent interested in red light cameras or anything of that nature--if they see cameras on poles, it is all for crime prevention and we are continuing to look at how we can grow that program.
OFallon Police Captain Jeff Wild said the camera program is not a surveillance program to spy on law abiding OFallon residents.
"Cameras have provided us the ability to review locations where a crime has already been committed, as well as monitoring a crime in progress that has been reported to us,"Wild said. "It is too early to tell what deterrent it has provided, however, we have already made drug arrests and burglary to auto arrests with the use of these Wehrenberg cameras."
Wild went on to say the agreement to partner with Wehrenberg Theater on Central Park Drive in OFallon began in 2013.
"We have been successful in drug arrests, vandalism, and burglaries to automobiles. Currently, Wehrenberg is the only business, however we are currently working with several other businesses who are interested."
Van Hook said Kathy Federico, executive manager at Jack Schmitt Chevrolet in OFallon, has expressed an interest in cooperating with the police on being put on the camera grid that the police utilize.
At the end of the day, the OPD is just one piece of the whole puzzle for the City of OFallon, Van Hook explained. The more we can work together, the more we can be cost efficient.
Van Hook said hes focusing on the unincorporated Carson - Behrens area, which the police and the St. Clair County Sheriffs department have, over the years, worked together to decrease crime.
When we look at crime suppression, its important to look at all resources available. We have a great relationship with the Sheriffs department, Van Hook said. Just by proximity, if there are calls for service that require immediate attention, we would definitely respond to assist until the Sheriffs deputies can get there. Weve had a lot of support over the years with the assisted housing area which we have some cameras up in that area too.
According to Van Hook, the monitoring that goes along with the crime-free housing program has contributed to the decrease in crime in recent years. Despite the success with these programs, Van Hook hopes to increase effectiveness and impact even further with his analysis of what changes need to be made throughout the department.
One thing that gets overlooked when people look at public safety is the contributions from the Fire Department and the Emergency Medical Services, he said.