UPLANDS PARK, Mo. (AP) -- A struggling eastern Missouri police force accused of being little more than enforcers of a speed trap is trying to make changes after a string of embarrassing incidents involving officers.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported over the weekend that four Uplands Park Village officers were fired for being unlicensed, while a jailer was charged with assault. A former police chief was accused of threatening to kill one of his cops. In October, an officer was arrested by the FBI on suspicion of robbing and sexually assaulting prostitutes -- in the police station.
Even the man at the helm of the turnaround effort, Police Chief Harlan Smith, presents his own public relations challenges. He's on probation for misdemeanor assault.
He told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch he did something "stupid" and pushed his wife during an argument.
The Village of Uplands Park has only about 460 residents. It didn't have its own police department until four years ago when the village trustees decided to establish one.
Now, there is talk of dissolving the force.
Smith has until the summer to turn things around or the village in northern St. Louis County again will contract its police service through another agency.
"We are trying something new," trustee Chairman Shirley Martin said. "We are praying that it works."
Smith acknowledges he has his work cut out for him.
"My house is dirty," Smith said. "I'm in the process of dusting and sweeping."
Smith, who owns two day care businesses, a private investigation company and several rental properties, is doing the job on a volunteer basis. However, he eventually wants the village to pay him.
He makes a point of walking the streets regularly because he wants the residents to see him out.
"Hanging out, loitering and all that, I don't tolerate it," Smith said.
The department has five volunteer officers, two paid police officers and one paid code enforcement officer. The paid employees make about $10 per hour. The volunteers put in hours to keep their certification, which allows them to get more lucrative jobs working security.
The community has many elderly residents, and the crimes the officers come across generally aren't serious. For all of 2009, there were only a handful of crimes: four drug charges, a weapons violation, a burglary and five vehicle thefts.
There are also plenty of speeding tickets. In 2008, the department issued 1,013 tickets, ranking second in the state in terms of the number of tickets issued per square mile of jurisdiction, according to the most recent data from the Missouri attorney general's office.
Despite its problems, the department has its fans. Some felt they didn't see enough patrols in years past when police service was contracted out to nearby cities.
"Our crime rate is totally down," said Marilyn West, 64. "I can't say anything bad about them."
For others, the department does little more than run a speed trap.
"They don't know a bit more about policing than the man on the moon," said Charles Jackson, 78.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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