Advances in technology and equipment can help to lighten the load placed on Lincoln County police officers, and help ensure local law enforcement can provide the best service to the public. When a person pictures the average police officer, a few accessories usually come to mind as well.
Officers normally carry a gun on their belt, which is either issued by the department or must be provided by the officer, like in Old Monroe. Other common tools include a radio, tasers, pepper spray and even digital recorders or body mics.
These tools seem simple enough, but even the simplest tool can be improved, and staying on top of changing tech is one of the fights that local departments are constantly engaged in.
For example, the taser company that Troy police department buys from are now producing their third generation of taser. Likewise, speed radars have gotten smaller and are typically mounted on the dashboard, compared to the brand 15 years ago that were chunky, unwieldy and hand-held. Over all, smaller designs leave more space in patrol vehicles.
“As time goes on, they come up with better ways of making their product and better ways for us to use it,” said Troy Detective Tony Stewart. “Obviously, that comes at a cost because they don’t replace old equipment for free.”
The biggest struggle for smaller departments can come from limited budgeting. Larger police forces, such as those in St. Charles and St. Louis counties, have higher tax bases and thus have a larger budget in general to divvy up. Old Monroe Police Chief Kim Lowery used to work in the O’Fallon Police Department, and mentioned that the city would spend millions on their department, a fortune compared to Old Monroe’s annual budget of less than $100,000.
Another problem that smaller cities can run into is the Macks Creek Law, legislation that was amended in 2013 to restrict cities from letting traffic violation tickets make up more than 20 percent of the general revenue. The law ensures that cities don’t take advantage of its citizens, but the recent drop to 20 percent can hurt cities that don’t really have an abundance of other services or sources of income, such as Old Monroe.
However, low budget doesn’t mean low quality when it comes to tech. Old Monroe overcomes its slim budget by applying for grants and looking for donations. Because of that diligent effort, when the town’s six officers and two reserve officers get to work in Old Monroe, they get to drive a brand new Ford Explorer patrol car, fully equipped with a breathalyzer, mounted computer and even a digital radio that was donated out of the personal pocket of a local fire chief. Digital radios are especially expensive, with hand-held units costing around $2,700 each.
The vehicle was purchased with a four-year loan, and the city purchased the car confident they would pay for it fully through donations. The department raises funds by selling a calendar, hosting car shows or trivia nights or from receiving donations from organizations and businesses like the Bank of Old Monroe, which donates $2,000 a year.
“We get everything through grants and donations,” Lowery said. “We’re truly blessed by businesses and the community who work to maintain this department”
The Winfield Police Department also stands as a testament to what grants and donations can accomplish in a smaller force. All of Winfield’s vehicles are equipped with computers, dash cams, radars and even a mobile ticketing system. The Panasonic Toughbook computers they use can be taken out of the vehicle and then mounted into a locked container on the side of a desk inside the police office, where the contents of the computer can then be transferred to indoor monitors. The computers can be dropped from eight feet and are also water resistant.
The computers were either donated from entities or purchased used from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and the dash cams were donated from a different police department. Chief William Burleson of Winfield said while the equipment may not be the latest and greatest, it still gets the job done.
“I believe we are the most technologically advanced police department in the county,” Burleson said. “Its something I’m proud to say; something that we worked hard at is integrating technology into our department. We worked really hard finding grants to help us, and looking for deals to assist us in getting these projects done.”
The technology brings multiple advantages. Having computers in the cars allow officers to stay more visible in the community, and dash cams provide accountability for officers as well as potential evidence in court cases. Winfield has six full-time officers and one part-time, which means the town has an officer patrolling 24/7.
Moscow Mills also has patrol cars equipped with computers, radars, patrol rifles, shotguns and AED devices. The department has 12 sworn officers, six of which work full time, also giving that town 24/7 coverage.
“As far as necessities go, we’re pretty solid on technology that we have and what we need,” Chief Terry Foster of Moscow Mills stated. “There’s always extra shiny toys that you could have that would be fun and obviously super helpful, but nothing really sticks out that we’re sorely lacking.”
The chief emphasized while grants can get you many things, they require a lot of paperwork and the one thing the department is lacking is administrative help.
Larger departments such as Troy, which has 25 sworn officers, and even the county sheriff’s department, can have a harder time finding enough funding to equip that many more vehicles and officers. However, extra manpower results in being able to tackle the more diverse situations that come with larger populations. Both Troy and the Sheriff’s department also have K-9 units, which certainly count as a versatile and dependable form of “equipment.”
No two departments are alike in Lincoln County, as each community has unique needs and situations to be met and addressed. A departments size does not dictate its technological advancements, but no matter the tools, the mission of police officers remain the same – protect the innocent, enforce the law.