WOOD RIVER — Many changes are taking place in the Wood River Police Department to provide better service to the community.
Additions to police personnel include some familiar faces, but the skills and training these officers are bringing with them will prove to be a benefit to the department and citizens.
Police officer Michael Young began his career as a WRPD cadet in the summer of 2005 after graduating from Lewis and Clark Community college with a criminal justice degree.
Young moved to East Alton in 2007 as a police dispatcher before transferring to the street as a patrol officer and eventually becoming a canine handler, a career goal for him.
“This job allows us to see all different forms of life events, good and bad,” Young said. “I received a call from WRPD offering me a position as a patrolman. I spoke with my wife, family and even my co-workers at EAPD before making the decision to return to Wood River. I felt it was the best fit for me, my family and my career.”
Not only is Young bringing more than eight years experience to the streets of Wood River, he’s also bringing his canine partner, Degen. Degen will be a second police canine for the WRPD and will provide an added service to the community. Canine officers commonly are used for drug searches; they also help find missing people and property as well as make the job safer for police officers during apprehensions.
“Words cannot express how grateful I am that Degen was approved to make the move with me,” Young said. “These dogs are extremely loyal, hard-working and do not think twice when they are called upon. The bond I have formed with Degen is well beyond my expectations. I’m truly blessed that EAPD and WRPD were able to come to an agreement for Degen to keep working. All the local departments in the Metro East area work together. I may not patrol in East Alton, but if Degen’s service is needed, we are a phone call away to assist in our old stomping ground.”
Another former officer returned to the WRPD force in police officer Brad Wells. Wells began his police career with the WRPD but made to the move to the Madison County Sheriff’s Department in the spring of 1992. With Madison County, Wells worked to build a distinguished career including work with the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis as well as the Madison County Child Abduction Response Team and Child Death Investigative Task Force.
Wells was promoted to chief deputy for Madison County and brings more than 25 years of experience back to the city of Wood River, where Wells has remained a resident throughout his entire law enforcement career.
“Bringing back these two officers, we have the unique opportunity to skip past the learning curve,” Wood River Police Chief Otis Steward said. “Both of these guys have been officers for a while. It helps us with the fact that neither of them need to go to the academy, we don’t have to go through field training with them and both are originally from Wood River, so they know the streets and are familiar with the neighborhoods. We can get them out on the street a lot faster. We met with the village of East Alton and they graciously have given us an agreement that we can’t pass up. In a meeting with the city manager, the mayor and the council, they all agreed having Degen is something they’d like to see done for the city. We just need to get some equipment switched over in some vehicles and we’ll have him on the streets soon.”
In the wake of unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere in the country, body cameras are becoming a part of many police uniforms. The Wood River City Council began discussing the need for body cameras last fall and decided taking a proactive approach would be in the best interest of the community and the police officers.
“We do have the body cameras in, but they are not in use yet,” Steward said. “There’s a lot that goes along with using body cameras. I know they sound like something you can just strap on to your uniform and take off with it, but when you talk about the use of these cameras, one issue is invasion of privacy rights and possibly eavesdropping laws.
“We’ve contacted the State’s Attorney’s Office and Rene Bassett, our city attorney, and have had several conversations with Senator (Bill) Haine. We want to go about things right the first time and not just throw them out there and worry about pending litigation as it comes. We want to cover a lot of bases before they go into service.”
Along with the use of body cameras comes the topic of storage space for the data collected from each officer during each shift. Steward said that is a problem they have already solved.
“We have obtained a server through a colleague who is a member of the FBI cybercrime task force,” Steward said. “He’s in the process of getting all of the equipment set up with the software that comes with it. It all has to be taken care of and we need to be trained so we know what to do with it. We hope to have everything running smoothly in the next two weeks to a month so we can get these on the street.”
On Oct. 6, the City Council approved an agreement authorizing the real property donation and redevelopment agreement with BP for construction of a new police station. BP will provide $7.8 million in funding as well as property along Illinois 143 for the city to construct the facility. The current police station, including a jail, was built in 1976 and has been described as cramped.
“We are currently working with the architects to get the footprint of the new police department down exactly like we need it,” Steward said. “Once the footprint is decided on, those diagrams will be transferred over to construction documents. Construction documents is where all the job bidding will come off from. We’re hoping to see some breaking ground by this summer.”
Wood River City Council meetings on the first and third Monday of each month are open to the public. Residents are encouraged to attend. Meeting agendas are available in the city clerk’s office the Friday before a council meeting.