MOUNDRIDGE — Crime in Moundridge rose 11 percent in the past five years, and the Moundridge Police Department is taking action to keep the community as safe as possible.
"There's been a lot of changes in the past year and a half, and they're positive changes," said Moundridge Police Department Det. Scott Zimmerman.
The department added the detective position Zimmerman now holds in the last year.
"We've worked a lot of major cases," Zimmerman said.
Moundridge Police Department has worked at least five sexual assault cases over the past year. In some cases, victims are reporting assaults that happened as far back as 2011, while other incidents were immediately reported.
"We need to make people OK with seeking out help and contacting law enforcement," Zimmerman said.
Sexual assaults can be reported directly to law enforcement agencies or through Safehope, the Kansas Department for Children and Families or the McPherson County Attorney's Office.
McPherson County offers resources for victims including counseling and trial preparation, Zimmerman noted.
"They're not willing to press somebody into something they're not ready for, because trial can be very scary," Zimmerman said. "You have a room full of people and you don't know these people and you're talking about things that are very unpleasant to anybody, let alone if you're the victim of those things."
Federal narcotics case
"We're upping our narcotics game a little bit, doing deeper investigations," Zimmerman said. "We're looking into people a lot more."
In January 2017, a traffic stop led to federal charges for a woman.
"I made a traffic stop and on that traffic stop, we utilized the McPherson County K-9 unit," Zimmerman said. "The dog subsequently alerted on the vehicle. While searching the vehicle, we found a safe inside."
After obtaining a search warrant for the locked safe, approximately 112 grams of methamphetamine were found inside.
"There was enough weight that it actually went to federal court," Zimmerman said.
The female was arrested for possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. In October 2017, the woman was sentenced to five years in prison.
"We had a good outcome," Zimmerman said. "I'm very happy about that, because it was methamphetamine that was intended for the residents of McPherson County. ... It's good to get that off the street."
"We're getting new computers," Zimmerman said. "This time last year, we had one for the entire police department."
Moundridge Police Department now uses OpenFox, a program that allows officers to access the National Crime Information Center.
"I no longer have to call dispatch to run tags and driver's licenses," Zimmerman said.
Officers previously had to have information on individuals faxed to the office.
"You can't email it, because it's not secure enough," Zimmerman said.
By using OpenFox, Moundridge officers can access information in their own office.
"Not only are we streamlining what we're doing, we're also lessening the burden on county communications by not having them run our tags and driver's licenses all the time," Zimmerman said.
The department is also applying for grants to purchase a records management system program, allowing them to easily access records and track cases.
"All of my offenders from any case will be readily accessible as opposed to going through an Excel document or looking through a file cabinet for that information," Zimmerman said. "I can type a name in a search engine and it'll bring up every case they've ever had, what the case status is, where it was from, and that RMS system will be available to the officers inside their cars."
Having a mobile RMS system gives officers a better sense of who they are contacting while on patrol.
"It helps with officer safety. If this person's been violent in the past, they're going to be able to see that," Zimmerman said.
The program would also allow for more accurate annual reports.
"The records management system will allow us, at the end of every fiscal year, to go before the city council and track true crime numbers and calls for service," Zimmerman said.
Moundridge started a Facebook page last year, using the social media platform to put out calls for help identifying suspects and give residents information about severe weather and found animals.
"We've gotten a lot of positive feedback on the Facebook page," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said the department has received strong support from its administrators, city council members and the community.
"Once you start being transparent and telling people what you need, it's amazing how many people reach out and help you," Zimmerman said. "We have a strong community here. We have a lot of great citizens in Moundridge who support what we do."
Citizen's police academy
"One of our goals is to become more transparent with the public; let them see exactly who we are and how we work," Zimmerman said.
To do that, the department is putting together a citizen's police academy.
"We're going to include stuff like meeting the county attorney, going down to the jail and seeing that, going to the 911 communications center, meeting the McPherson County SRT team and seeing what they do, meeting your city prosecutor and city judge," Zimmerman said.
The citizen's police academy is planned to start sometime in July or August and would meet weekly for around 10 weeks. Prospective participants will be required to apply and undergo a vetting process.
"I think now we're at a time in the nation where transparency in law enforcement is paramount," Zimmerman said. "I think they need to see us for who we are. If they can come in and see us work and do what we do and learn how we do it, I think that will speak volumes to the public."
Going to school
Having periodic police presence in the city's schools can foster students' trust in law enforcement, Zimmerman noted. Since he was a school resource officer in the Maize school district, he hopes to use that experience in Moundridge's schools as well.
"(Chief Kessler) wants me to stop by the schools and keep in contact with the principals and talk to the kids," Zimmerman explained.
Future fifth officer?
Moundridge employs four full-time police officers and are discussing adding a fifth.
"The fifth officer would definitely be beneficial to us as far as being able to provide a better patrol basis to the citizens," Zimmerman said. "Being a detective, I'm kind of torn between patrol and doing detective work."
Paperwork, interviews, court dates and follow ups are all part of Zimmerman's duties as a detective.
"I have two calendars on my desk. That should tell you something," Zimmerman said.
One Moundridge officer is on the McPherson County Sheriff's Office Special Response Team, a position that requires extra training time, but has also resulted in assistance with narcotics cases.
"It's bred a very good relationship between the city and the county," Zimmerman said.
Moundridge officers have increased their productivity with more traffic citations and self-initiated cases, Zimmerman noted.
As Moundridge's population grows, Zimmerman hopes residents will take an interest in the police department.
"I'd like to see the public have more input on how we grow and where we grow and what they'd like to see us do differently to suit their needs," Zimmerman said.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at email@example.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.