It’s all about building relationships.
Ballwin Police Chief Kevin Scott mentions that simple philosophy as the reason for implementing the “On Patrol with the Chief” program now under way in Ballwin.
Residents who want to learn more about the department and have an interest in seeing the city from Scott’s perspective can apply to ride with the chief in his police car. West Newsmagazine accepted the offer and was the first to ride along with Scott on a quiet, sunny day late in May.
One thing that quickly became apparent during a tour through numerous Ballwin neighborhoods was the reaction of those outside doing yard work, checking their mailboxes or walking their dogs: They invariably waved as the Ballwin police car approached and rolled by.
It’s unlikely any of those greetings came because people recognized the police chief at the wheel. The bright sun and window reflections ruled that out, as well as the fact that Scott was driving a typical patrol car, not one with any personal identification.
Scott said those reactions simply are examples of the ongoing support the community has shown in the wake of the gunshot wound that critically injured Officer Michael Flamion during a traffic stop almost a year ago.
“You can bet all our officers know it’s perfectly OK to wave back. I think the department always has enjoyed community support but everything that has happened this past year has certainly emphasized that,” he said.
While not readily apparent to the casual observer, the Ballwin Police Department today is much different from when Scott took the helm in April 2016. He has opted for a flatter and much less hierarchical organizational structure, which he believes creates more efficiency and teamwork. In the same vein, everyone, except those assigned to plain clothes work, wears the traditional dark blue uniform. Command staff officers formerly wore white shirts.
Scott also emphasizes training that gives all officers a greater ability to handle more aspects of police work. Ballwin has contracted with a national online police officer training firm that enables personnel to access 24/7 a variety of courses important to their work.
In addition to making courses more available, the system virtually eliminates training-related travel, per diem and overtime costs.
With the department now organized into four squads, Scott’s goal is to make each one a self-sufficient mini-department trained and equipped to handle virtually any situation that comes up during any 12-hour shift.
Ballwin officers, who formerly worked eight-hour shifts, endorsed the 12-hour concept because of its win-win benefits. The new approach gives personnel more flexibility for family time and activities while providing scheduling advantages that enabled the department to trim its full-time staffing needs through attrition.
The department also has equipped two recently purchased SUVs with the gear needed to serve both as crime scene vehicles and regular patrol cars. Another of Scott’s goals is to have all officers trained and certified for basic crime scene work. Those officers will aid the two detectives who already meet standards for international certification.
Ballwin patrol cars are now equipped with computer-aided dispatch equipment that conveys the status of all on-duty vehicles and facilitates communication between them. A new e-citation system speeds the process of issuing traffic tickets and checking for outstanding warrants on anyone who is stopped.
Up-to-date digital video cameras in patrol cars always are on but switch to active recording whenever the vehicle’s flashing lights are activated. A background recording function enables an officer to save up to one minute of what the camera saw before active recording began. Sound also can be added by flipping a switch that’s part of an officer’s standard gear.
Any recorded video is automatically downloaded to master equipment when a patrol car approaches the department’s parking lot and is in range of the system’s antenna there.
“I want all of our people to know they are allowed to solve problems and come up with new ideas without waiting for top-down instructions,” Scott emphasized, adding that Ballwin City Administrator Eric Hanson has strongly supported the department’s various initiatives.
Scott’s relationship building also includes a police chief’s forum, a group of business people, citizens and others from the community who meet with him periodically to suggest ideas, express concerns and discuss any issues that arise.
“My job here involves being an ambassador for the city, in addition to serving as police chief,” Scott said. “I have no qualms about leaving the building when necessary because we have such a strong leadership group. The place purrs whether I’m here or not.”
“We also have a department where people have an opportunity to grow and that’s good both for the organization and the community we serve.”