Sheriff answers public questions during town hall meeting

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 1/30/20

BELLE — Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman fielded questions at the department’s town hall meeting Jan. 23 to help the public understand the new police services contract.

Q: How …

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Sheriff answers public questions during town hall meeting

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BELLE — Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman fielded questions at the department’s town hall meeting Jan. 23 to help the public understand the new police services contract.

Q: How often is Maries County deputies in Belle?

A: Heitman said they were in town as much as they could be in the 530 square mile county. He added that people asked him why they should pay Maries County for their services when the county would be in town anyway?

“It is our responsibility, but the city of Belle deserves a fast response (than they could give before with just county officers),” Heitman said. “Then there are those who said it takes Maries County too long to get here, but it’s not going to now. We are going to be in town.”

Heitman said the difference in the city deciding to pay the county is having the equipment and more officers on hand so the wait time is minutes versus 45 minutes to an hour.

Q: Ed Gehlert asked if the sheriff would take over on-going investigations or just new ones?

A: Heitman said they would take over any cases the marshal wanted them to and follow through.

“Ultimately he is still the marshal and has sole authority over that,” Heitman said.

Q: Is Belle still going through Linn for dispatching services?

A: As of Feb. 1, dispatching and 911 calls are all going through Maries County.

“You won’t have that delay in the transfer now like you do now,” Heitman said. “There is still a chance if you call 911 from  your cell phone, you could be picked up by Osage County Dispatch.”

Q: What is the non-emergency number to reach officers in Belle?

A: It is still 859-3535, the same non-emergency number the city has always had.

Q: Who handles the ordinances?

A: The sheriff’s office will primarily handle criminal investigations, but that includes city ordinances.

“I think the city council is going to see about the city marshal handling the nuisance violations, but police services will primarily fall under our jurisdiction and if the city needs help with nuisance violations, we will help them,” the sheriff said.

Q: How long is the current marshal going to still be here?

A: The marshal is set at his full pay until the end of his term, at least two years. For the city to get rid of the marshal position, it would have to be put to a vote to the people.

“A lot of the questions have been about pay,” Heitman said. “He is at his full pay now. I don’t know what the city’s intentions are. I think if he is out working all the time, things will probably come out pretty fair. I am speaking out of turn on that.”

Q: “I was under the impression that you guys were going to take over all law enforcement,” said Linda Moore, Community Watch Coordinator. “So now you are saying Turnbough is still responsible for things that are going to be going on, like dogs. Did anybody realize that? We have already had a problem with no one doing anything, so the assumption was you guys were going to step in and do something about it.”

A: “Ok, so the assumption is if it’s not getting done, it’s now going to get done,” Heitman said.

Q: Don’t you think with Maries County patrolling that it would free up the marshal to do the other things he wants to do?

A: “It would give him time to do the nuisance violations, even if he is working a second job. Before, the street officers needed guidance, it pulled him away from other duties. But now with another administrator, it won’t have to worry about that,” Heitman said.

Q: Fred Betham Jr. asked about the sheriff’s forms of communications because he does not have Facebook, but reads the newspaper.

A: “We will utilize the newspaper and still have them here,” Heitman said. “But you are probably going to get the news a little late. The newspapers usually pick up on my Facebook page.”

Q: Why does the sheriff post on Facebook where they are currently serving warrants?

A: “I think it is my job to keep the public informed and you have a right to know where that drug house is down the street and you have a right to know that you may want to keep your kids inside. It’s a great tool and it’s a safety issue,” Heitman said.

Maries County Advocate Live Stream questions:

Q: “I’d like to know what Chris’s plans are if resources decrease at the sheriff’s department?”

A: “Luckily I have had a pretty low turnover rate, I am pretty blessed with that and don’t anticipate resources dropping and patrolling going down. I really don’t perceive that happening,” Heitman said.

Q: Is the money amount under the contract going to stay the same or will it increase at the end of two years?

A: “I anticipate the $155,000 will increase by a cost of living raise for the (Belle) deputies, which is three precent of their salary. But the city knows they can budget for it,” Heitman said.

Raises on contingent on Maries County paying approving raises at the county level.

Q: Will the officers in town work with the fire department? For example: if the street needs to be shut down in emergency situations?

A: Yes, which is traditional for law enforcement and fire departments to work together.

Q: When issued a ticket in Belle, will citizens still have to go to the Belle city court or Maries County?

A: It depends on the violation. If it’s a municipal violation citizens go to Belle Municipal Court, if it’s a state violation, to Vienna at the county court. It’s the same as it is now.

Q: Is the sheriff’s department keeping the current officers on staff?

A: The sheriff’s department has full intentions of keeping Brennan and Coborn on staff, as they were sworn in Thursday, Jan. 23 afternoon, as long as they conform to the department’s standards.

Q: What time will officers be patrolling in the mornings?

A: Heitman said the department will be hitting the morning traffic.

Q: Will there be any information handed out with citations to explain what and where people should go?

A: Officers don’t hand out informational packets, but the deputy will tell citizens where they need to go and the tickets have an address on them.

Q: Any significant changes to the city’s contract with the police department since the Jan. 20 special meeting?

A: Mostly verbiage changes, but nothing significant since The Advocate previously reported the contract

Q: Does the sheriff think it would be beneficial to have regular town hall meetings?

A: The sheriff’s department still plans to help citizens run their Neighborhood Watch program and aldermen meetings are held the second Tuesday of each month. Deputies will be at the board meeting presenting information each month.

Q: Where will Maries County be operating from in Belle?

A: Officers will be using the front room of the Belle Police Department while Marshal Turnbough uses the back office. If there is not a car there, call the number on the door to dispatch to radio the officer on duty.

“I do ask the community to get behind us because we are here and we are trying to make the community safer,” Heitman said. “If you see something suspicious, call it in. We will do what we can.”

Heitman asked for citizens to give them time to fight crime in town. They may know where drug operations are happening, but need time to collect evidence. Tips called into the Maries County hotline are also helpful.

“I know this was a hard decision for the council, but we ultimately know more proactive policing was needed,” Heitman said.

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