Chad Farrington

Chad Drury/The Courier

Ottumwa Police Chief Chad Farrington in his office at the Wapello County Law Enforcement Center, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.

OTTUMWA — Chad Farrington was all set to embark on a four-year degree in another field but took a year off high school to recharge.

Then, he stumbled across the book.

"I had an idea where I was going to go, and it just so happened that within a matter of a month or two where I was going to head to that career path, my best friend started the criminal justice program at Indian Hills," Farrington said. "And he had his 'Intro to Criminal Justice' textbook there, and I picked it up, started reading it, and here I am."

Here he is. Twenty-three years after starting out in the Ottumwa Police Department, the 46-year-old Farrington has been chief of police since late last spring. In his time with the department, he's worked as a field training officer, sergeant, lieutenant, criminal investigator and had a hand in internal affairs, just to name a few responsibilities.

In fact, there are few police rungs he hasn't touched. Having spent most of his life here, he can't see himself anywhere else.

"Ottumwa's home," he said. "I believe in Ottumwa. I like the people here. I want it to be part of something bigger than myself, to hopefully affect positive change."

When he was sworn into his job as chief in June, he mentioned "looking forward to the challenges of serving the community."

Since then, law enforcement in general has received backlash for the handling of the George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake incidents. Farrington believes there is no room for that conduct in this community.

"I've always told my kids you never judge a man based on the color of his skin; you judge him based on his merits and his character," he said. "And I hope that by instilling that in all my staff that we'll continue to move forward and prove and show it to the community there's not biased policing here. That there are not police efforts here based on race, ethnicity, etc. It's based off a matter of law.

"I don't think that's a fire we have here," he said of the general landscape. "There's a group in Ottumwa based off racial justice. Hands down it's been very peaceful, civil, and I can't ask for anything more. Some items brought up are items you see in metro areas. I don't see that here in Ottumwa. It's just a challenge to put the best foot forward."

Since Farrington started on the force, law enforcement has changed dramatically, for better and worse. Social media and other technology fall into both categories. 

"When I started, there were no cameras in the cars. No taser devices. No downtown camera network. Technology has made huge changes in law enforcement," he said. "The first cameras we had were VHS recorders in the trunk. It's been great, but the biggest issue is people have inflated ideas of what it does and how quickly investigations get started and conclude. Technology is man-made. It's human nature to go to the negative when it fails, like they're hiding something. It's a great tool when it works, not so much when it doesn't."

Farrington has 39 officers under his command and is currently hiring for another. Originally there were to be 42, but public safety cuts forced the city to not budget for that many. The chief is sympathetic to the city for having to make the difficult decisions.

"Society today is do more with less. The city council had a very difficult decision, and I don't envy them, but we elected them and I believe in them and we need to stand by them," he said. "Maybe we have to take pains in the beginning, and then maybe look at expanding services and departments."

Farrington is in the process of revamping the department's policy and procedure manuals, an undertaking that started with his predecessor Tom McAndrew. But Farrington also believes the department should evolve and not stand pat in any facet, so all of his officers have gone through a 40-hour training in crisis management. He'd like to introduce a K-9 unit into the department, but also be someone his officers and staff can talk to in a difficult time.

"One of the things I've started is interviews with each individual employee, and I'm still in the process of doing that," he said. "I don't believe that just because I'm wearing the gold badge I'm going to have all the answers. It's defeating for a leader to believe that they do. They have to look at their greatest resources, and that's the staff who are out there on the streets every single day. You want to create an atmosphere where people want to come to work."

However, he also sees it becoming more difficult to hire good officers because the nature of the job forces them to run the gamut of emotions.

"You have to have a support system. Family, hobbies, working out. Anything you can do to relieve the stressors, that will help you have a fruitful career," he said of the emotions that come with the job. "If you don't, you get cynicism and burn out. Even a support system in the police department is good, but there's the old adage that this guy or gal is carrying this many skeletons, and I don't want to put mine on them.

"You see a slew of early retirements and people getting out of the profession," Farrington said. "The vicious circle is that you get people who don't want to be in police. It's very difficult to get quality applicants to apply. How do you defeat that? I'm not sure. It's a real challenge."

Yet, he believes the department should set a positive example for the rest of the community and be good stewards of it.

"I'm of the opinion that when people have a poor or disparaging opinion of a city, it doesn't help with the productivity," Farrington said. "I hope to portray a positive attitude about our city. No one person is going to make a difference, but as a team, we can make a positive difference."

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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