St. James is always sprucing up and why should the police station on Bourbeuse Street be any different? Tuesday, a painter was meticulously moving his brush in, out and around the dentil molding of the Greek-inspired entrance. The classical white background served as the perfect frame for the evenly-spaced black letters spelling out a simple “POLICE DEPARTMENT.”

St. James is always sprucing up and why should the police station on Bourbeuse Street be any different? Tuesday, a painter was meticulously moving his brush in, out and around the dentil molding of the Greek-inspired entrance. The classical white background served as the perfect frame for the evenly-spaced black letters spelling out a simple “POLICE DEPARTMENT.”

Many St. James citizens might not have noticed the upgrade, but it’s always the little things that are telling. Ask any police department detective. In this case, the freshly-painted result is indicative of a show of community and department pride. And since it’s a police station, it could represent a little no-nonsense discipline with a whiff of justice. It might be just a coincidence that the new look transpired during National Police Week, a week where police departments all over the country are being recognized for their service to their communities.

Local police departments are recognized in proclamations and ceremonies by town and city leaders and less notably, by the residents themselves through prayers and nervous greetings. But while those actions are appreciated, they are reminders of the communication challenges police officers have with the public in sometimes dangerous situations. Every uniformed officer has the task of serving and protecting, while upholding and respecting the law. That can just naturally make people—law-abiding people—uncomfortable and edgy, particularly if they’ve had uncomfortable prior experiences with uniformed law enforcement.

Chief Ron Jones understands this juxtaposition well.
He thinks the key to overcoming any uncomfortable interactions around his uniformed officers is holding public relations events and individual polite, friendly conversations within the community.
“It gives us the opportunity to interact with the community here in St. James and allows the community to see our officers in a different light.”
 
The St. James police department has 8 uniformed officers, the chief and one staff support person. Lt. Carl Swanson is one of the officers and he hails from Houston, Mo. His dad was a mechanic and his mom an accountant. He attended Drury for a degree in criminology and the Police Academy because he thought he was pointed in the direction of employment with the FBI. Instead, he wound up applying for the St. James police force (“I’d never been there.”) and got the job.
“I really fell in love with the community,” he says.
“St. James is unique. I feel the community has your back as well as the city [officials]. As long as you’re reasonable, people understand [and support you]. That’s just not commonplace in general.”

Remember that we’re people, too
Lt. Swanson also knows about the communication challenges within the community. He wishes people would get away from the titles, and though those enforce “respect,” he wants people to also see him as “Carl” or “Mr. Swanson,” as much as Lt. Swanson.
“I’d like for them (citizens) to look at us as people,” he explains.
“We have a family and we want to go home to our families whether it be a wife and children, significant other, mom and dad—whomever. I think that police are held to a higher standard, and they should be, but they need to understand that we’re people, too.”
Lt. Swanson praises Chief Jones for the participation in public relations activities that help the town interact with the officers, so they can feel more comfortable in the presence of officers. He notes the Tips for Cops program, where the officers wait on restaurant customers and bus tables at Country Bob’s and McDonalds.
“These P.R. things put us together in a whole different environment,” he notes. “I’m not there to tell you you’re doing something wrong. We’re there to talk, smile and shake your hand.”
“People don’t realize that working the register is harder than it looks,” he says, grinning.
Lt. Swanson and another officer attended the S.A.V.E. opiate seminar last week at the community center, greeting attendees and to show support for the efforts of Craig and Gail Daniel, who initiated the seminar.
“I just enjoyed hearing people talk, because when I get dispatched to your house or I meet you at a traffic stop, you’re not happy to see me,” he said.  
“Most of the time, that interaction is not positive from the very beginning, because you’re asking for help [in a stressful situation] or you’re pulled over for doing something wrong. Someone’s either mad or hurt or emotionally upset, so it’s difficult to make you aware that I’m just here to investigate—not trying to step on your toes—just trying to do my job and get everybody to relax and take a deep breath.”
Chief Jones adds, “St. James is not just a community—it’s a large family. This community steps up to help one another in troubling times, and we feel honored that we get to be a part of that.  

We come from all over
The strength of a police force comes from within. Leadership and experience are important and the St. James Police Department has both. Chief Jones spent time growing up in Chicago, the state of HI and other places. The department has a Sgt. from Seattle, WA, an officer from CA and another Sgt. from IL.
“We have a couple of local guys and an officer from Salem as well,” said the Lt.
“Our hiring process, that we’re going through right now is extremely open. We’ve had applicants apply from IL in the last two weeks.”
Lt. Swanson says the diversity works to their advantage as a team.
“We’re cohesive, like-minded and goal oriented,” he said.
“If you work for us, here, we’re also going to give you some discretion, too” he explained, referring to being open to developing special talents that each individual brings to the force.

We’re knowledgable in special skills
To illustrate, the Lt. gives an example.
“If you’ve grown up with a difficult past ,you may feel strongly about domestic violence,” he explains, “you might want to specialize in that.”
If an officer wants to learn about mental illness situations, he may be sent to critical incident training.
“Sgt. Jarrett was sent to drug recognition expert training, so he’s a DRE, which means he can evaluate situations [on charges of] Driving While Intoxicated,” noted the Lt.
“That involves alcohol, but he’s trained through the state to evaluate people that have been impaired, whether it be narcotics, stimulants or depressants.
Chief Jones said, “We do our best to make sure our officers are trained above and beyond the basic requirements. We do not want to set them up for failure. We want to assure they have the tools they need to succeed.”
“Once a month we do in service training before court.”
He adds that each officer is assigned a topic every month and they have to research and present a class for their fellow officers.
“This works in two ways—it’s a great refresher for our officers, but it also allows the officer presenting the class work on public speaking, research and leadership skills,” he said.
“While most departments have a dedicated Detective Bureau or Narcotics Unit, we do not,” said the Chief. “Our officers conduct their own investigations, write their own search warrants, and follow up on narcotics information, while still responding to their day-to-day calls for service. I think we do this very well.”

They are always on duty
Lt. Swanson says the officers all always on duty because they are held to a higher standard within the community. Even though they are off duty, he says, if an officer sees a felony being committed, “you are supposed to interject yourself to do whatever safely can be done,” he said.
“They need to take whatever precautions they can to make sure they and their families are safe.”

A long-time officer is in the Department for the right reasons
Lt. Swanson says people become police officers (in general) because they want to help people, but he recognizes that it is more complex than that.
“A lot of people get in because they think it will be fun,” he said.
“For people that liked sports, they love that team comaradarie and competition. It’s the same here.”
Some also come into the force to right societal wrongs, such as making the system better for domestic violence victims. For whatever the reason, the job either suits a person’s strengths or falls to their weaknesses. The average time a police officer spends in the profession is around five years, so the shakeout period is relatively short.

We’re out in the community at all hours of the night
The St. James officers rattle business door knobs to check they are secure, just like Barney and Andy on the 60’s Andy Griffith Show. A St. James business owner just might find a card slipped under the door with a note that says their place of business was checked at 3 a.m. and everything was secure.
“[As a business owner], that would make me feel better about the area that I live and work in,” said the Lt.

The St. James police force is personally vested in the community
Chief Jones takes a broad view when it comes to shaping the future through his department’s actions.
“I believe if we target our youth with resources, positive reinforcement, and educate them, we can help mold the future leaders of St. James,” he said.
“I believe our community based approach to policing will continue to lead improvements in our community.”

Lt. Swanson says the community-based approach with fun events such as Tip a Cop, are done off the clock and that has significance.
“These officers leave their families and volunteer their own time to do this,” noted the Lt.
He says each officer realizes the chance for an opportunity to connect with the community outside of their official duties, even though they wear their uniform to help the public understand their event, which also raises money for a charity such as the Special Olympics.
“These guys will pay and do training on their own [to be better policemen], work some extra hours and pay for their own stuff sometimes to make themselves a part of the community, to where they feel like they have something to fight for,” said the Lt.
Lt. Swanson says he would like the community to remember why an officer interacts the way they do on a call.
“You know you are a good person, but I may not know that,” he explains.
“One out of “X” number of traffic stops, someone is going to try to kill you. It could be the first one—it could be the 5,000 one. You may be a good person or you may be the one that is going to shoot me. In the end, I’m just Carl Swanson, who has three kids and a wife that he wants to go home to at night.”
Chief Jones adds, “we are just like everyone else.”
“We go through the same struggles as everyone else. Every day we put those struggles aside to help others with their challenges and problems. I feel truly honored to be a part of this department and to work alongside the great officers of this department and we are all truly honored to serve the citizens of St. James.