SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Springfield’s Police Chief says implementing several crime prevention strategies has led to dozens of arrests in recent weeks.
OzarksFirst sat down with Chief Paul Williams this week to ask how officers are able to continue to crack down on a handful of non-violent city offenses despite staggering staffing shortages.
Right now, the department has roughly 50 vacancies. An academy class is scheduled for January, but those soon-to-be officers won’t be patrolling the streets until they finish training in late November 22.
But a push from residents and City Council to ramp up enforcement of some commonly-broken city ordinances, Springfield Police recently stopped writing tickets for municipal crimes and started arresting frequent offenders.
Williams says so far, the focus has been on simple assaults, trespassing, shoplifting, and stealing.
“Those offenses, we’ve been arresting people for and putting them in jail. They have to go in front of a judge the next morning and maybe be arraigned, maybe set a bond, or maybe be released. But for sure they are getting that initial removal from that situation and locked up to try to send a message there,” says Chief Williams.
Williams says the city has only recently been able to increase arrests for city offenses due to overcrowding in the Greene County Jail.
Last year, the city was once again given the ability to house up to 40 inmates who are charged with city crimes.
Previously, The Chief says the city had followed the county’s lead on what’s called ‘sight and release,’ or giving someone a citation instead of taking them into custody.
But with more jail cells now dedicated for city use, Williams says officers have also begun going after roughly 10,000 outstanding warrants that have accumulated in recent years.
“We went through all the warrants and found folks who had multiple warrants and we’ve been actively seeking them out and arresting people on those warrants. [We are] using overtime money to hire officers outside their patrol duties to do nothing but that,” he adds.
“It seems like a small number, we’ve arrested a dozen people…but 39 have called up the municipal court or showed up and said, ‘Hey, I understand I have some warrants,’ either because we knocked on their door and they were not there, or they just heard about this. They’ve come in and taken care of their warrants, so that’s an even better result.”
Williams says a formal Crime Prevention Plan will kick off in January, “with quarterly emphases on specific crime types, along with public awareness campaigns, public education, along with deployment, patrolling, and enforcement activities.”
For the first quarter of 2022, the focus will be on vehicle thefts.
“Every winter we have a huge uptick in the number of cars stolen because people start them, run them, and leave them.”
He says it will take a combined effort by police and Springfield residents.
“If we can arrest those people that are stealing them and stop that from happening, but also, if people will start paying attention and take their keys and lock their car. Help us keep them from becoming a victim. If we can do those two things, we can drive those numbers down dramatically.”
The Springfield Police Department is also participating in a six-month pilot program to place 28 license plate readers around the city.
Chief Williams says with just 12 cameras installed, the new technology has already resulted in four arrests and six stolen vehicles recovered in the first three weeks.