Shifting economic fortunes in cities, increased operation costs and policy structure changes can all wreak havoc on small-town police departments. The loss of city courts has also meant many small towns in Missouri are missing revenue formerly generated from fines, which in turn helped fund their police departments.
During St. Francois County Commission’s Tuesday meeting, Sheriff Dan Bullock noted his department was now helping with law enforcement in Leadington, Iron Mountain Lake and Terre Du Lac.
“So we’ve got three communities added to sheriff’s department rosters right now, enforcing county, state and federal laws,” he said, adding that prioritization of calls will also be important, and a deputy will not necessarily be located in those towns, on standby. Also, “we can’t enforce local ordinances. Those things are out the window when it comes to the sheriff’s office,” he said.
In the past, the sheriff’s department has helped out Bismarck, Leadwood and Desloge “during special-needs times, just not on an extended basis like this is,” Bullock said.
In Terre Du Lac, the sheriff said, the idea is to deputize the five police officers that were employed with the Terre Du Lac Police Department, and the Terre Du Lac Property Association would in turn reimburse the county for the expenses of running law enforcement out of its current offices. On Sept. 1, the department’s insurance company ended its liability coverage, which is the main reason behind the merger.
TDL Property Owners Association President Duane Patt said a prior article mistakenly quoted him as saying, if the merger with the county is successful, the officers could see pay increases of 20%.
“I said, the payroll costs including benefits might increase 20%,” Patt clarified. “Insurance tends to increase in costs. But I expect we’ll see a signed agreement coming soon, within the coming weeks. We're working very hard with the county to try to ensure Terre Du Lac has police protection.”
During Tuesday’s commission meeting, Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher indicated the Terre Du Lac agreement is being finalized, but he would like to work with more concrete numbers than estimated projections.
“I want to do this on a true-cost, monthly basis. It’s not fair to charge them an estimated cost and us go and estimate a cost, it’s not going to be accurate. We have an excellent accounting system. We know to the penny what last month’s expense was on every item,” he said Tuesday. “We can set this up so that at the first week of the month, we will send them a bill for what we literally spent on their system. That cuts out that annual adjustment; that cuts out that stuff that is just a guess.”
Leadington Mayor Joe Davis confirmed that now that the small city is down to two officers, the sheriff’s department has been helping when one is out sick or on vacation or otherwise off. A single officer wouldn’t be able to handle the 24/7 requirements of police work.
“It’s not like Terre Du Lac. They’re just filling in, it’s not a complete take-over of our police department at this point. I’m not taking anything off the table though, we’re looking at different options,” he said. “With the financial situation we’re in, we’re looking at possibly contracting it out.”
Davis said they initially reached out to Park Hills to see if an agreement for added coverage could be reached, but they have yet to hear from the city. Plus, residents are still fond of having their own police department, as they expressed during a public meeting early last month.
“Citizens have expressed their thoughts and concerns, and while they want Leadington to stay independent with its own police department, I have yet to hear of a plan as to how to pay for it,” Davis said. “We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and we’re trying to provide these services. Fire and police departments are really the image of your city, but if you don’t have the revenue to support and maintain those positions, it’s not fair to the people employed in them or to the people they serve.
“And we have no extra money in the budget, nothing held back just in case. It’s kept me awake sometimes at night, if you want to know the truth.”
Iron Mountain Lake Mayor Shane French was contacted, but refrained from commenting for this article. The sheriff's department in the past has helped the town's police department.
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.