SPARTA, Mo. — At one time, a town in the Ozarks was without a police department.

For five months, Sparta didn’t have any officers and criminals took advantage, breaking into the empty police department, stealing guns, ammo and equipment.

But now — seven years later — Sparta Police Chief Trampus Taylor has changed the culture of the police force.

Taylor told me when he first started, he was the only officer on staff. Now he has five full-time officers, new police cars and a new building. He also took care of the department’s debt.

But he told me what he really wanted to do was make an impact in the community and let them know he is here to serve and protect.

“I think the biggest thing we had to have was something that you can not buy. It was reputation; that’s the truth. If people don’t trust you, they won’t tell you anything. So, having to build a report with the citizens, it meant the most to me,” said Taylor.

Chief Taylor told me one of the first things he did was join the Sparta Chamber of Commerce and met face-to-face with business owners around the area to let them know that he was going to give them the service they deserved.

He told me when he started hiring officers, the first thing he looked for was if they were community-oriented.

Chief Taylor said that’s a big component in earning the trust of the citizens, whether it’s stepping out of the patrol car and playing basketball with the kids or attending local sporting events. He makes it a priority to be involved in the community.

“I try to teach my officers: we ask people to do something. That’s the first step. We ask you, ‘Hey your yard needs to be mowed. Can you take care of that for me? Could you do that next week?’ We work off it like that instead of ‘Hey, get your yard mowed. Those types of things. It’s how you interact with people. It really is,” Taylor said.

Last Tuesday, May 9, during a city council meeting, Chief Taylor was recognized for being a nominee for Missouri’s Police Chief of the Year Award.

For nearly two months, family, friends and city officials kept it a big secret from Chief Taylor. 

While he didn’t win it, the city wanted to recognize him with his own award.

“I come back next week and we have a city council meeting and our mayor says she wants all of our police officers here. Okay. Her first term and her first city council meeting and I’m having to bring all of our officers, which I’ve never had to do. It gave me a little bit of anxiety about what was going on. But anyway, it turned out to be excellent, they completely surprised me,” said Taylor.

The city wanted to make sure Taylor knew he was appreciated at that recent meeting, surprising him with that award.

Sparta City Clerk Beckie Vessar said they wanted to keep that award under wraps until the last second.

“We shocked him when he saw his wife there,” Vessar said. “He knew something was up. It was amazing.”