Coffee with a Cop

On Wednesday, Citizens gathered at Hotel Ottumwa to hear Police Chief Tom McAndrew and Sheriff Don Phillips talk about the changes in their departments and issues in the community while giving attendees a chance to ask questions.

OTTUMWA — Wednesday morning offered a chance to see a different side to law enforcement during Coffee with a Cop.

Police Chief Tom McAndrew and Sheriff Don Phillps talked about issues in the community and law enforcement while also giving citizens an opportunity to ask questions.

McAndrew talked about Citizens Police Academy (CPA), the changes with the Ottumwa Police Department and the decline of law enforcement officers in Ottumwa and surrounding areas.

“A big obstacle we have in the police department and everyone across the country has is hiring cops and retaining them,” McAndrew said. “We’ve got the departments around us that are having zero people show up on the application or testing day. It’s going down, why? Because people don’t want to be cops anymore.”

Most of the time McAndrew said he and those in the department interview applicants whose family members were cops and then wanted to apply because they were referred to by their members.

“Now you don’t have cops these days saying, ‘Yeah I want my son to be a cop,’” McAndrew said.

De-escalation was another issue addressed. After officers have participated in a 40-hour crisis intervention back in August, they have been talking about de-escalation, questioning how to handle it. McAndrew said since the emergency responders took the class they’ve gotten better at talking to people with mental illnesses.

Since the success of the training, Phillips has been working to set up classes that focus on de-escalation. Phillps is not only involved in setting up classes, but also focusing on the two canines and other events taking place in the sheriff’s department.

Phillips said the sheriff’s department is still fundraising for two canine officers, since it costs $25,000 for the dogs to go through training. The additions would not have been possible without the support of the community.

“The community has really rallied behind us on that,” Phillips said. “We raised $75,000 through grants and folks doing stuff and doing some fundraisers.”

With the money raised, the sheriff’s department was able to get a second vehicle and the equipment. Phillps said the two canines were not the only addition to the sheriff’s department; it also increased in staff.

“It’s always been an issue with staffing at the sheriff’s office as well as the police department,” he said. “We are 99 out of 99 counties to have ranked for staffing through citizens ratio. I’m glad we took more on board.”

At the end of the talk, officers and attendees stayed for more donuts and coffee to discuss their thoughts.

Lt. Jason Bell said this event was different from other Coffee with a Cop events.

“I really liked this event,” Bell said, “because there was a lot of discussion about what’s currently going on at both the police department and sheriff department. It’s good to have a line of communication in an informal setting between the public.”

Thoughts expressed by the public are what drove Bell to continue participating. “I like hearing the concerns regarding why my impression is on problems that are happening like the drug problem,” he said. “It’s good to hear some of that feedback from people in a face-to-face setting.”

Mary Mitchell and Deb Breckenridge said it was their first time attending.

“We knew there was a lot of crime so we wanted to know how it was working out,” Mitchell said. “The stress they deal with — they got a lot on their plate each day and it’s sad to think there’s high crime.”

Mitchell said she learned a lot, like how officers deal with drug arrests and about CPA. “Knowing that the department is worried about the community — that means a lot,” she said.

Breckenridge agreed. “I would encourage other people to come,” she said. “It was very informative of what is going on in our city and county. It was good that there’s a crisis intervention training. It covered a wide variety of subjects and gave citizens a chance to ask questions.”

Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

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