By Craig Hastings
Surround yourself with good people. I learned it on my own before reading it in a book somewhere or hearing in some random class along the way in my career. I became the police chief here in Tuscola in 1986. I was just six years into my career when the opportunity for me to move up the ladder came about quickly. I was at the bottom and wanted to pass go and collect the “$200” Monopoly Game reward all at once. I managed to be appointed to the position of Chief but with it my promise to the then Mayor, Clarence Snyder that I would voluntarily step down and back to patrol if the position became too much for me to succeed. That was thirty-five years ago.
The police department here was in disarray but, I had some pretty good people working with me but we were all going in a different direction. In less than six months we became a pretty good team and law and order was the goal we were all working toward. Employees come and go in every profession and Tuscola certainly has seen our fair share of police officers come and go. More times than not the reason an officer moves on is for more pay either at another police department or another profession all together. Up until the last ten years or so Tuscola has always been able to sift through the sand of applications and find good fits for a small department such as ours. In the last ten years our turnover rate has been higher than average and the sand pile has been dwindling and replenishing it difficult.
For two thirds of my career my main objective has been trying to hire people that are either Tuscola descendants or people born from communities the same size or smaller than Tuscola. The objective was to hire people that understand policing in small, rural community is different from most events one might see in any of the reality police series television shows. We don’t and won’t ever have five, seven, ten or more police officers arrive on scene at an emergency event like you see on TV. No, it will be you by yourself or maybe one other Tuscola officer if you’re lucky enough to have double coverage on a shift. Douglas County deputies are quick to show up if they happen to be in the area.
Well that sand pile of applicants became empty and we have needed to expand the search out of my own comfort zone. Party because I’m to particular and partly because we just don’t get a good number of qualified applicants wanting to work here anymore, this department has operated with one and two few employees for the past four and half years. It seems just when we get back to a full staff of seven officers one will leave or one will suffer a long term injury or both events happen at the same time. Throw in vacation time that must be used and many months we will attempt to fill shifts with just four people.
Now for the good news and the reason for this story tonight. We have six full time people filling shifts and a seventh currently in a police academy. Because we try to find the best people willing to work in a small community we have what I believe to be one of the best teams we have ever assembled. Crime in small communities is unfortunately shadowing what you find in the larger cities. What we are doing in Tuscola is what police are doing in Champaign and Decatur. The same people the larger cities have historically kept for themselves have migrated to smaller communities like Tuscola. Why? I have no idea but we’re doing our best to show them their crime opportunities are going to be fewer here than where they came from. Their chances of being arrested are going greater here because their cover is less and the officers here are more aggressive to catch and arrest them than from where they came.
Last week was a busy week in Tuscola. Evening shift officers working aggressive patrols managed to arrest two of our major methamphetamine distributers recovering a stash of five other illegal narcotics for sale, cash, and property, solve a crime of sexual assault to a minor, deal with numerous citizens in mental distress, evict unruly people from several properties, and make warrant arrests of criminals from outside our community. Years ago this would be considered a one week in a hundred. This simply isn’t true anymore. This is more the normal evening patrol activity than not.
In order to maintain law and order we must have good police officers and those officers must aggressively keep their noses to the ground always looking for criminal activity. And right now we have those officers employed and I’m hopeful the newest two recruits will watch and learn from their senior officers. So, I have surrounded myself and Tuscola with “good people” and I’m pleased with the tight lid they keep on the community keeping us safe and keeping Tuscola a place you can still walk down Main Street and 2:00 a.m. without fear of being accosted or worse. With this country is such disarray and police being targeted with hate and worse, why anyone would choose law enforcement as a career opportunity today is beyond me. But we have currently have seven officers willing to fight the fight full time and I couldn’t be more proud of their performance.
(The views and opinions expressed in the submitted columns are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Journal.)