St. Robert police respond to rising crime rate problems
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Monday, February 2, 2009 11:51 pm
ST. ROBERT, Mo. (Feb. 2, 2009) — St. Robert police and most other area law enforcement agencies are seeing a significant rise in criminal activity, Police Chief Curtis Curenton reported at Monday night’s city council meeting. However, Curenton said his department is aggressively working to combat the crime wave and thanked the city council for helping his department obtain grants and other funding needed for that effort.
Curenton, who was promoted to chief in 2007 from the department’s third-ranking post of lieutenant, told aldermen that he’d promised a detailed report on statistics from 2008, his first full year in office. A key part of the crime-fighting effort, Curenton said, was obtaining $80,000 in federal and state grants in the last 18 months, most of which went for communications systems.
“We had some serious morale issues when the guys hit the talk button on the radio and they aren’t being heard by dispatch, it tends to mess with their heads,” Curenton said. “Anybody who is out there and that’s your lifeline and you can’t use it, it’s going to be a morale issue. We have since fixed that, and I think if you will speak to the officers themselves they will tell you that the radio system is much better than it has ever been.”
The communication system improvements included adding a new antenna on the city shed near the twin bridges on Old Route 66 over Interstate 44.
“That has increased our range and abilities,” Curenton said.
Other grant money was used for a series of drunk driving and seat belt usage checks in 2008.
“That money not only helped for overtime, it helped for high visibility vests and lighting systems so when these guys were out there in the nighttime doing these checkpoints, that whole area was lit up,” Curenton said. “It just makes it a much safer and secure work environment for them to conduct their business.”
Curenton said his officers conducted six sobriety and four seatbelt checkpoints last year and with grant money obtained a breath alcohol content analysis van for the checkpoints that will remain available to other area agencies as well as St. Robert police as long as they’re doing the checkpoint program. Not counting the last drunk driving and the last seat belt check for the year, 3,363 vehicles were checked, 29 drunk driving arrests were made, and 125 other arrests and traffic violation citations were made.
“Those are some pretty outstanding numbers. The beauty of this was that the grant paid for the overtime for these officers. It wasn’t comp time for a change; they were actually paid for some of these extra duties,” Curenton said. “A lot of them came in on their days off or they pulled four more hours on their shift. They worked hard last year and you can see it in the numbers.”
Curenton also commended residents on their response to St. Robert police enforcement.
“I believe it made a difference last year. I know that we still have the complaints about the speeding, but with the amount of traffic that is in this area, with 3,000-plus traffic stops, 7,000 in the county, we had one fatality accident inside the city limits last year,” Curenton said. “I think that is a direct effort of the men and women of the police department doing their part, being visible, reminding people that they need to slow down, be more attentive drivers.”
While law enforcement activities usually cost money, Curenton said he began a highway safety program in 2007 on the portion of Interstate 44 running through St. Robert that so far has generated more than $220,000 in cash seizures and two dozen vehicle seizures from arrests.
“It was a slow process getting everything ironed out,” Curenton said. “Of all those vehicles, I know three have gone to public works, the PD has two, and I want to say the city administration has one, and then there is one that was donated to the Waynesville-St. Robert airport. That’s quite a few vehicles that the city did not have to purchase, and all of those vehicles were very helpful. I know my department is making good use of them, and so is public works.
The currency and vehicles come from arrests related seizures of 100 pounds of marijuana in 2007 and 230 in 2008, as well as a half-pound of heroin, a stolen handgun, and arrests made in a human trafficking arrest.
“We are making a pretty good impact out there on the interstate,” Curenton said. “I’ve talked to a couple of troopers and they said that they think that the accident rate has gone down and we have not had any other fatality accidents out there on that stretch of the interstate that our officer is out there on, and just prior to us getting out there, we had three in 90 days. I think that officer has made a very big impact and our presence has been felt out on that I-44 corridor.”
Activities on the interstate aren’t taking precedence over other types of law enforcement, Curenton emphasized.
The St. Robert police generate a large portion of the criminal cases going to Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Hooper, Curenton said, while presenting comparative statistics from the Waynesville police, Crocker police, Richland police, and sheriff’s deputies.
Not counting the Dixon police and state troopers who regularly but not exclusively work in Pulaski County, Curenton said there are 43 full-time sworn law enforcement officers working in the county. Of the 5,636 reports generated and 7,150 traffic stops countywide, St. Robert’s 16 officers generated 2,486 reports and 3,126 traffic stops.
“Per officer, your officers were doing 155 reports, compared to the other agencies with about 116 per officer,” Curenton said.
That rate carries over to traffic stops as well, with 195 stops per St. Robert officer compared to 149 stops per officer for other agencies. With 37 percent of the officers, St. Robert police took 44 percent of the reports and traffic stops.
“That’s a pretty serious workload there. I know you guys heard the sheriff talk about it, I don’t know if you know the other agency heads, but all of them are pretty overwhelmed. They said the numbers continue to grow,” Curenton said. “All of my counterparts, they are seeing spikes in their numbers as well, so we are not the only ones that are having to put up with this.”
St. Robert has had 50 more incidents for January 2009 than for January 2008.
“If that continues, we’re going to see quite an increase through the year, and that’s pretty significant,” Curenton said.
Not all traffic stops and incident reports generate state charges run through the Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney’s office since many are handled via municipal charges in St. Robert Municipal Court. However, 251 cases have been referred to Deborah Hooper since July 2007 with 153 felony cases, 72 misdemeanors, and 26 cases still under review. Of the 12 agencies that files cases with Hooper, about 18 percent come from St. Robert, Curenton said, with an average of two felony cases filed per week from St. Robert.
“That represented about 18 percent of their workload. We are either right at the top or there is one other agency that might have as many felonies as we do, but we are definitely the one that is generating the reports,” Curenton said.
Curenton warned that it may be harder to obtain grants in the future.
“I’m going to forewarn you that the amount of grants has decreased significantly and the grants that are still left out there, the amount of money that they typically gave out has dropped, so the competition is going to be very fierce for grant money for the foreseeable future,” Curenton said. “Hopefully these numbers will help you make a decision when it comes time to increase the police department numbers.”
Responding to questions from Alderman Ralph Cook, Curenton said he wasn’t able to obtain a grant for a speed display device to show people how fast they’re driving.
“If we can figure out a way to get it, we will,” Curenton said. “Maybe later on this year, if the budget is looking a little better, that’s something I will come ask for. We do have some ideas on what we want to do to try to help get the speed limits down … these checkpoints have been just wonderful.”
Curenton said he hopes the number of drunk drivers will decrease with more aggressive enforcement.
“Those numbers are just too high,” Curenton said. “But otherwise, folks are doing a good job of trying to get their speeding down.”
The city had 464 accidents last year in the city limits, Curenton said.
“I hope to see a decrease in that next year, but like I said, it’s going to take the community as a whole, not just the police department, but individuals are going to have to take it upon themselves to be responsible about their driving habits,” Curenton said.
Fire Chief Chuck Fraley concurred with Curenton’s report on accidents and speeding.
“In my department, we see it,” Curenton said. “We want to thank the police department because the number of accidents on the interstate has decreased and the severity of the accidents on the interstate has decreased this past year … We can definitely see a difference on the interstate in this area.”