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Flordell Hills, with just 822 residents, will soon have its own police force

Flordell Hills, with just 822 residents, will soon have its own police force

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FLORDELL HILLS • The six-member police force being built here will have an officer for every couple of square blocks.

Flordell Hills has 822 residents living on about a dozen streets in less than a square mile. It will stop relying on its larger neighbor — Country Club Hills — for police services starting at midnight Oct. 1.

The new police chief and former city marshal, Dennis Oglesby Sr., said Wednesday the move will bring improved services at the same or a lower cost.

The transition began months ago, before protests over the police shooting of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, a short distance up West Florissant Avenue, put a fresh light on the fragmentation of municipalities and services in St. Louis County.

Flordell Hills becomes the 58th municipal police department in the county of 1 million people. That doesn’t include the county police, which covers the third of the population that lives in unincorporated areas or in cities under contract.

“In my opinion, the residents of Flordell Hills would be much better served contracting with the St. Louis County police,” said Rick Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, in an interview Wednesday.

He said officers in larger agencies often are better trained and have deeper resources. The county police has about 750 officers.

Rosenfeld said he fears the greater issue may be a desire to maximize revenue from traffic tickets.

The city is a sort of island surrounded by Jennings, from which it once contracted for police protection. A scandal prompted Jennings to dissolve its force and contract with the county in 2011.

Flordell Hills had also considered such a contract, but went to Country Club Hills instead after county police refused to continue to operate its speed cameras, county Police Chief Tim Fitch said at the time. Fitch, since retired, has been a vocal critic of automated traffic enforcement and small police departments.

Oglesby said he has not heard any complaints from residents about forming a police department.

Four officers, all newly hired from surrounding municipalities, are on the streets now, even as Country Club Hills continues to work until its contract expires.

“The residents are already making comments. They’re already happy that our cars are out patrolling,” Oglesby said.

He said residents had complained that they didn’t see Country Club Hills officers on patrol often enough.

“Several residents had made comments saying Country Club officers were sitting in the Schnucks parking lot on West Florissant not really doing anything,” said Oglesby, himself a former officer in Country Club Hills and Jennings.

The tipping point, he said, was a series of 25 car break-ins in June that went unsolved.

Oglesby said aldermen also worried that Country Club Hills was going to continue to raise its prices for service.

Country Club Hills Police Chief Clifton Ware said Wednesday he thinks money was the main issue. He said his community’s aldermen were preparing to ask for a yearly increase of up to $50,000 on a contract that started at $90,000 per year and had risen to $146,000. But he said his department delivered good value.

“The crime rate went down, and their revenue from handwritten tickets as well as speed cameras took their budget a lot higher,” Ware said. He said it was only as the bill grew steeper that “all of a sudden, we weren’t as sharp, we weren’t on the ball” in Flordell Hills’ eyes.

Oglesby acknowledged that crime in Flordell Hills is low.

Both chiefs also agree that small departments may provide better service than big ones.

Ware recalled the time one of his officers was patrolling in Flordell Hills and noticed the front door open on a house where he knew an elderly man lived. Upon checking, the officer discovered the resident having a heart attack.

“My officer saved that guy’s life,” he said. “I think sometimes if you get too big of a department, you lose that personal touch.”

The new Flordell Hills department will operate from City Hall on Brandon Avenue, using officers who supply their own weapons and driving used patrol cars acquired from other departments. Oglesby said those are among the reasons he is confident of his operation’s low cost.

Ware warned, “I think they’re quickly going to find out that it costs a lot of money to start a police department.”

A sampling of Flordell Hill residents Wednesday showed no strong feelings.

“I’m going to wait and see how it turns out when they get over there,” said Millie Moore, 48. She said she was cautiously optimistic.

Charles Nunley, 31, said “I don’t see harm in it.”

It’s difficult to tell one police department from another anyway, since they so often cross jurisdictions, said Jonathon Griffin, 38. “They’re the same. It’s cool with us.”

Christine Byers of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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      Jennifer S. Mann is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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