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Community Safety

Funding, Recruiting and Diversity in the Fair Grove Police Department

On this edition of the “Sense of Community” series we’re going to visit one of the smaller law-enforcement units in Greene County.  Situated about ten miles north of Springfield city limits is the town of Fair Grove, population 1,393 in the 2010 Census.  The Fair Grove Police Department headquarters are housed in the City Hall building, which also contains Mayor Tim Smith’s office, the Fair Grove Branch Library, and the City Council chambers. The day I went to visit the Fair Grove Police Department, I met three of the force’s five full-time officers, including Chief of Police Adam Mallory, who told me the Department consists of ten officers—five full-time and five reserve officers.  The latter are required to give the Department 20 hours per month, and are used to fill in for full-time officers who are on vacation or sick leave.  “We also have a School Resource Officer; however, he’s paid by the (Fair Grove) school (district) and commissioned through our department,” said Chief Mallory.

Interestingly, for such a small force, the Fair Grove Police Department manages to provide 24-hour service to the city.   Chief Mallory admitted that “in the past it’s been a challenge to get 24-hour coverage, the funding to do so.  But our City Council has listened to the citizens in the community, and that’s what they wanted. And we’ve strived to get that, and have finally been able to do so.”

Even with only ten full- and part-time officers on the force for a town of 1400 or so population (probably closer to 1500 now), the Fair Grove Police Department’s job is to maintain not just law-and-order, but a positive presence in the community.  A quick look at the Department’s Facebook page reveals a number of public-involvement activities including the new “Police Explorer” program that utilizes youth ages 13 and up for various civic programs and events, while helping them gain leadership skills, trust, accountability, and overall good citizenship.  Chief Mallory said one of their reserve officers volunteered to be the coordinator for that program.

Other Fair Grove Police activities in the community include a regular Senior Citizens Scam Awareness program, and the Community Resource Officer program, which is headed by Patrol Sergeant Brian Way.

“We have three wards in our city, so the belief was that we could have one officer who would dedicate his extra time—when he’s not busy, has a slow night—to be able to communicate and network with the citizens of that ward, with the businesses of that ward, help them understand that they’ve got a liaison in the department,” said Sergeant Way. “Doesn’t cost the community anything, it just takes the officer taking an initiative and speaking with those citizens.  The citizens love it, and we love to be able to help them do that.”

Most of the Department’s funding comes from the City of Fair Grove’s tax base, said Chief Mallory. “Our City Council sets an annual budget.  And funding is probably one of our biggest challenges out there.” Not including salaries, basic equipment, vehicles, and basic officer training, Chief Mallory said the Department also seeks funding for other equipment as needs arise, and sending his officers off for training in various specialized disciplines, by which he hopes to make the Fair Grove Police Department “a very independent department—you know, crime scene investigations, computer and sex crimes.  But that takes a lot of money.”  How do they acquire funding for special projects like this? I suggested they probably have to go to City Council “with your hats in your hands.”  Mallory and Way chuckled at this but admitted that indeed “most of the time we go in (to City Council) with a request to them, and if the funding’s there to be able to do so, then they’ll let me know.  But we (also) apply for a lot of grants to try to get funding” for those extra needs and projects. In fact, the Fair Grove Police Department has applied for and received grant money from the Local Law Enforcement Block Grants program, as well as the Wal-Mart Foundation.  But basically, said Chief Mallory, “we just kind of play it by ear and search for whatever (additional) funding we can find.”

Talk of budget concerns led us to the subject of staffing, and gender and racial diversity within the Department.  Actually, Chief Mallory said staffing per se is not much of an issue for them.  In the decade or so that he’s been Police Chief of Fair Grove, he said “I don’t think that we’ve ever had to go out and recruit (officers).  We’ve had applicants come to us wanting to work here.  And we’re lucky and fortunate to have that.  We have very minimal turnover.  In the last, probably, five years we may have had two full-time officers leave and go elsewhere—for higher pay. But the turnover is very minimal,” and their force is pretty stable from year to year.

As for minority and female officers on the force, keep in mind that Fair Grove Police has only five full-time and five reserve officers, and minimal staff turnover from year to year.  In addition, the City of Fair Grove is about 97% white, with Latinos making up the largest minority group at around 2 percent.  According to Chief Mallory, “we do have minorities on the force—but we do not have any females.  We have had in the past, but they’ve gone on to other (police) departments. When the applications come in, we’re fortunate if we do get someone of a different ethnic background.”

However, they don’t actively recruit minorities or women for the force, as they just don’t have the job openings available.  Contrast this with figures supplied to KSMU by Lisa Cox of the Springfield Police Department.  Springfield’s current population is around 165,000.  There are 317 officers on the Springfield force.  25 are female, or about 8% of the force, whereas some 51% of Springfield’s civilian population is female.  Thus, the Police Department would need about 160 female officers to match the population percentage.  Springfield’s African-American population is currently just over 4%; the Police Department has three African-Americans on the force, or about 1% of the total force. They almost keep up with the Asian and Latino population percentages, but still fall a bit short.

But getting back to Fair Grove, it’s easy to understand why their police force has so little turnover by listening to Chief Adam Mallory.  “I love Fair Grove—I think it’s a great community,” he said.  “You know, the community has showed us in the past, as far as law enforcement goes, they really back us. And that means a lot.  It makes our job a little bit easier knowing that the community supports us.  I would hope that, in the future, we would grow enough to where we have to go out and recruit for officers.  Several years down the road I hope the Department and the city grow.”