News Column

Police department faces big transition

September 1, 2014

By Kristin Hoppa, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

Sept. 01--The evolution of the St. Joseph Police Department continues with the retirement of several veteran officers and the induction of the largest group of rookies to the police force.

Last week, the St. Joseph Police Department announced the addition of eight full-time officers and four dispatchers. Police Chief Chris Connally said the new employees are exciting for the progression of the department, but the upcoming transition will be slightly solemn.

"It's kind of an exciting time because part of these additional officers is thanks to the Public Safety Tax, so we can really get the type of service out there that our public has been asking for," Mr. Connally said. "Another part of it is because some of our officers are retiring and it's a mixed bag because while we are losing some valuable experience, we are bringing on some new, energetic folks."

Former Detective Scott Coates formally filed for retirement on May 29 and was followed by Sgt. Marla Doty on Aug. 1. On Sept. 2, Mr. Connally said the department will hold an internal retirement celebration for 22-year veteran Detective Gregg Lewis, 41-year veteran Officer Mike Moore, who acted as a municipal court marshall, and 20-year veteran Cmdr. Janice Rothganger, the highest-ranking female officer in the department's history.

"I didn't even realize how big of a barrier it was in St. Joe (to promote Ms. Rothganger as the first-ever female commander) when it was broken," Mr. Connally said. "When I promoted her, I promoted her because she was the best person for the job and I didn't even take gender into consideration. ... The department will miss her because she's always been very intelligent and has also had a strong work ethic."

Mr. Moore will retire Sept. 2 after being with the department since July 6, 1973. Mr. Lewis, a member with the department since March 1992, will join Ms. Rothganger, who started in August 1994, and Mr. Moore in the retirement celebration Tuesday.

Voters approved a half-cent sales tax in August 2013, which would generate $5.5 million per year and operate under a 20-year sunset clause. The tax was estimated to use $1.1 million to hire an additional 22 police personnel -- five detectives, 15 sworn officers and two civilian staff members.

"We want to make sure we still have the experience to mentor people, help bring them along and since we are becoming a very young department, we looked very hard at these candidates," Mr. Connally said. "We look at their background and their community involvement because we are really trying to bring on the type of officer that our community deserves."

Recent additions include officers Jason Miller, Jason Hill, Stefen Hernandez-Gross, John Foster, Brant Hutchison, Dillon Powell, Sarah Nolte and Ashly Hamm. The new dispatchers are Alyxandra Hurd, Rebecca Daniel, Heather Ambrose and Lacee Williams.

Mr. Connally said in addition to department training, the new officers will spend time with local nonprofit groups in the next few weeks. He said community involvement is a key element to pass on to new officers and will lead to a better St. Joseph.

"Experience going out the door is just a part of the cycle of any organization, but as people go ... it opens up opportunity for the growth of an organization," he said. "The loss of experience will also be a challenge, but those officers started at the bottom, so it's also good for other officers to be able to set goals and work hard in our community."

Kristin Hoppa can be reached


Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPHoppa.


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Source: St. Joseph News-Press (MO)

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