Members of the City of Alton’s Community Relations Commission rolled out the 2017 Community Policing Strategic Plan at the special meeting held on March 15. Among the CRC’s nine members are City Attorney Megan Williams, Chairman Peter Hough of the River Bend Ministerial Alliance and Al Womack of the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Alton.
he results of a six-month study on relations between the community and the Alton Police Department, conducted by the city of Alton’s Community Relations Commission, were released at a special meeting of the commission March 15.
What was learned from the study will be used as a springboard for moving forward and for getting citizens even more involved, officials said. The meeting’s purpose was to share survey results, hear residents’ concerns and responses to what was shared, answer questions and begin the volunteer sign-up for teams that will be charged with the implementation of the 2017 Strategic Plan for Community Policing for the City of Alton.
Facilitating the study was Dan Isom, retired chief of police for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Isom now serves as an endowed professor of policing at the University of Missouri St. Louis.
“For me, it’s been an incredible experience,” Isom said during his introductory remarks. “It’s rare that a community takes up such a project without a crisis; Alton is not in a crisis now.”
Isom described the process that led to the development of the strategic plan.
The top issues identified in the plan include the need for staffing, an inadequate budget, ineffective communication, department morale, training and equipment needs, the recruiting process and strengthening relationships and trust in and with the community.
Goals for addressing each of the top issues are broken down by 30, 60 and 90 days in the plan, with beginning, implementing and evaluating the process monthly as the final step. The commission will be in charge of implementing actions, tracking progress and performance, and for holding responsible parties accountable.
“This is our plan, we own it,” responded Peter Hough, Community Relations Commission chairman and Riverbend Ministerial Alliance president, when an audience member asked who would be responsible for moving the plan forward.
Isom worked with Steve Finkelstein, senior partner of the Experience on Demand consulting firm in Chesterfield, Mo. Finkelstein was instrumental in conducting the confidential in-person interviews as well as in compiling, distributing and evaluating the completed questionnaires. Finkelstein also held focus group sessions with community members and with police to gather more information and participated in police ride-alongs as a part of compiling the plan.
Some 55 out of 80 city employees, or 69 percent, along with 1,264 community members completed the surveys. Finkelstein said responses managed to closely align with the demographics of the city, by ethnic background, age, police, clergy, school and business representatives, even given a 15 percent response level.
The presentation by Isom and Finkelstein was followed by a question-and-answer session with those in the audience. Approximately 50 people attended along with commission members. Several police officers were in the audience.
One of the questions asked was how the plan, once implemented, would affect neighboring communities. Commission member and city attorney Megan Williams said “our hope is that it would have a positive impact everywhere else,” while the commission noted that the study did not expressly address this.
Another topic discussed was the importance of engaging youths in these dialogues. As the founder of ACES 4 Youth and the local My Brother’s Keeper, Greg Norris urged Chief Jake Simmons and the department to work with him in recruiting young minorities in his programs to become cadets and, later, police officers. Fellow community member Greg Gelzinnis of the Salvation Army also asked about the youth involvement in the process and as the plan moves forward.
Resident Virginia Woulfe-Beile asked about budgeting the steps of the plan, and Gail Donnelly Bader questioned if feedback had been received from each of Alton’s four mayoral candidates regarding the discoveries found within the study and with the plan as it is implemented. Simmons said he has worked with Mayor Brant Walker in the rollout of the department’s cadet program, and that Walker remains strongly committed to it.
Angela Valdes of Churches on the Streets said their group ministry would like to be considered as a vital partner in the plan’s implementation.
“We’re watching the kids being wooed into this game,” Valdes said, regarding the drug and crime lifestyle and their ministry’s work, including at Alton Acres. “We want to be a piece of this puzzle.”
The complete plan is available at City Hall, and will also be made available through the city’s website. Community residents interested in serving as a part of the plan’s implementation groups are encouraged to review the plan and contact the commission to sign up.