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Community Safety

The Changes Being Made Under New Christian County Sheriff, Interim Ozark Police Chief

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Scott Harvey
/
KSMU

Bruce Galloway tries to stay in tune with the news in his community. The Ozark citizen and businessman also serves in various leadership roles. Ask him about the recent controversy surrounding the city’s police department and Christian County Sheriff’s Office, and he’ll tell you it’s been tough, especially following the resignation and federal conviction of former sheriff Joey Kyle.

“He [Kyle] apparently stole money, taxpayer money that was meant for enforcing our laws. That hit people very hard,” he said.

Galloway, a board member for the Ozark Chamber of Commerce, who also holds a seat on the city’s Public Funding Corporation, has lived here for over 10 years.

“I remember when he was running for sheriff and I remember writing a check to his election campaign. Looking at his credentials as a military officer, as a career law enforcement officer, I certainly thought he would do a good job, as many of us did.”

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Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU
Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole

Bruce Galloway Law Offices, located along 2nd Street in downtown Ozark, is a 30 second walk from the Christian County Justice Center. Inside, newly elected Sheriff Brad Cole is preparing his department’s roughly $5 million budget, and in doing so hoping to restore some public trust.

“One of the main things we campaigned on obviously was transparency,” said Cole. “One of the other things that I campaigned on was accountability. As the county coroner, I had great accountability for the taxpayer money. My budgeting, while I was in the office of coroner, every year I turned in 25-33 percent of my budget at the end of the year. So I had a budget surplus every year. And the coroner’s office will have that this year as well, as I’m still responsible for that.”

To prepare a solid sheriff’s budget, Cole is taking a line-by-line look at the county’s needs, and discarding items based on want.

“To make sure we have the necessities to do our job efficiently. Not what I classify as buying things we want, for lack of a better term toys, just to play with. Those are things that are a great deal of concern to me that we’re trying to correct and move forward with that way we have , like I said, the necessities to function properly.”

Thousands of dollars in purchases had come under scrutiny as part of the federal investigation into Kyle earlier this year.

Cole says he also wants a forensic audit conducted of the evidence room.

“If you don’t have accountability for your criminal evidence, that basically is a problem for the whole justice system, from the sheriff’s office to the prosecutor’s office to the courts… It’s part of the transparency and part of the accountability that has to be done.”

That also applies to personnel, Cole says. Shortly after taking office, he dismissed seven deputies and demoted two others. Cole says he’s not here to win a popularity contest, but rather do what he thinks in the best interest of Christian County.

“Making some of those personnel changes were not easy, but it was changes that I deemed were a necessity.”

And morale has since been on the rise, which Cole says he’s learned based on his conversations with deputies.

Low morale along with lack of accountability were among the findings in a report ordered by Interim Sheriff Dwight McNeil, who was appointed to the role after the resignation of Kyle and held the post until Cole was chosen in an August special election. Cole would maintain the position after a recount.  

The poor characteristics describing the sheriff’s office have also been used in recent months to identify the Ozark Police Department, a roughly 35-member force that is navigating its own changes in leadership.  

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Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU
Steve Ijames will conclude his time as interim chief for the Ozark Police Department Sept. 30.

“I think even in the face of what a lot of what the police would characterize as embarrassment, the citizens generally view the police department as a bunch of good officers trying to do the right thing for the right reason. And I think that accurately reflects what they are,” says Steve Ijames.

The interim chief for the Ozark Police Department occupies an office less than a quarter of a mile from the Christian County Justice Center. He’s been on the job the past two months.

“This police department today does not look anything like it did in mid-July.”

His appointment came following the resignation of longtime chief Lyle Hodges, who retired in late June. Hodges, along with two other employees, had been reprimanded following a review into the department to address alleged wrongdoings such as nepotism, abuse of hours, and ineffective management. Hodges has recently filed suit against the city, claiming he was forced out of the job that he had held for over 15 years.

Ozark City Administrator Steve Childers declined comment on the lawsuit, instead focusing on what he sees to be a rejuvenated police department.

“I think that the morale of the police department has elevated to a level which I haven’t seen in years. I think the employees over there were very hunger and very eager to be led and to have somebody that they could look up to,” said Childers.

Ijames says contrary to what some may believe he’s not here to clean house.

“The truth is that the processes involving personnel and discipline had in fact occurred,” Ijames said. “Was it to a degree that everyone involved would have been satisfied? Probably not. But it was done, and so from that point forward I just take the organization where I find it and make corrections moving forward from there.”

Those corrections include establishing new and efficient policies, and recommending to the city ways in which the board of aldermen can determine what they want their police department to look like.

“It’s simply a matter of benchmarking… And so I can build you a police department around your expectations, but you have to figure out first what those expectations are.”

New and efficient policies now include geographic responsibilities for officers, says Ijames.

“To increase the chance that if someone calls for help we can get there quickly…They get to know kind of what’s going on in the neighborhood; they get to know the businesses. And as you might imagine there’s sound logic in that to where that officer becomes familiar with who belongs there and who doesn’t. And that’s one of the key reasons why geographical accountability’s a really good idea in policing.”

City Administrator Childers says the city is already seeing the benefits of this change.

“People are actually recognizing that and saying, ‘Is there a problem. Do we have something wrong in the neighborhood?’ And we say, ‘No, we’re just patrolling your neighborhood.’ And they really appreciate that… it’s just refreshing to see the dialogue that’s taking place,” says Childers.  

Another is follow up to any citizen complaints against an officer. Ijames says he’s responded to nine since coming on board, two of which have found the officer at fault.

“Most departments have an internal affairs file that has a complete file of complaints of wrongdoing, and then the outcome of that investigation. [It’s] non-existent [here]. And so I’m created it right now – that file. So that we can see what happens to a citizen when they come in and complain and how it’s founded or unfounded.”

Ijames says the lack of investigations into past allegations “gives the appearance of being asleep at the wheel,” and does a disservice to both the accused officer(s) and citizens.

He’s also working to assign responsibilities during uncommitted time – or the time when officers are not working a dispatched call and are available for discretionary tasks. 

Childers applauds the various procedural changes and shifts in responsibilities, adding that he feels the police department is now more effective in working with and serving the public. He says the existing changes, along with the recommendations that Ijames will deliver in his assessment, will help guide the department even further.

“I think the assessment is not only going to give the new chief coming in a great foundation from which to make his evaluations and build upon, but to I think settle a lot of things down before he got here,” says Childers.

Just last week, the city announced the hire of Tim Clothier, a major with the Owensboro, Kentucky Police Department, to serve as Ozark’s next chief.

Ijames will work with Clothier for a few days before his interim term ends. The new chief joins the department September 28. Childers emphasizes that the role of city government and its police force is to serve the public, and hopes the citizens will continue to express their views and share their concerns.

“I want their faith in the police department of the city of Ozark to be, if it wasn’t there, restored. Because we have a lot of great men and women over there serving them every day, and now we’re going to have a great police chief.”

Back inside the Christian County Criminal Justice Center, Sheriff Brad Cole explains that his department has also taken a more community-oriented policing approach. The roughly 90-member department is making a more concentrated effort to cover and interact with the people in its 600 square mile service area.

“That’s where we have received some of the best positive feedback that you could ever imagine. And when we start getting that feedback, that’s when we know that we’re doing what needs to be done,” Cole said.

Cole cautions that the county still faces great challenges, but also that it stands ready to listen to the public’s concerns so that officials can address them to the best of their ability.

In the eyes of Bruce Galloway, the Ozark citizen who operates his business from the Christian County square, the feelings of his fellow citizens are beginning to take a positive turn. It comes over a month into the new sheriff’s term and on the heels of a new police chief’s start.

“It’s moved from one of disappointment, discouragement, more to an attitude of, ‘Okay, good, we’re starting to move on from where we were at.’”

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