ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KTVI) - They're no strangers to sirens in north St. Louis County, though the ones flashing these lights are flashing a different badge. The North County Cooperative consolidated the police departments of Vinita Park, Vinita Terrace, Wellston, and Charlack back in June. After senate bill 5 passed, limiting funds from the courts, the towns turned to Chief Tim Swope, who came in and made changes.
“The municipalities not only wanted to save a little bit of money," says Chief Tim Swope, "but they wanted to make sure we brought a municipal-style policing, maybe a more family-oriented partnership. A little bit closer to the citizens.”
Swope says his co-op charges about $15,000 less per officer per year than St. Louis County by trimming bureaucracy. And that working under contract forces his officers to step-up and treat citizens like customers.
“If we don’t provide good service, there’s other options out there," says Swope. "And truth be told, that’s a good thing. Most importantly, we have to feel it in our hearts.”
Sergeant Susie Lorthridge has taken Swopes’ vision to heart. In addition to patrolling the streets she and other officers host game nights, movie nights, even parties. But what does she say to those not drinking the Kool-Aid?
“I would say the proof is in the pudding. We’ve already changed how this community sees police," says Lorthridge. "I would say give it time. See how we do. We’re going to continue to do our job to the best of our abilities. And in the end, it will show."
Willie Green, the owner of Bada Bing Barbecue in Wellston, says the service with a smile is fine and all, but what he’s interested in are results – which he’s seen.
"They’re very friendly. They seem like they’re doing a good job," says Green. "They're solving crimes, though. That’s the main thing. They’ve sold three murders. They haven’t solved a murder in Wellston in what? Fifteen years. So, that’s a good thing”
Among the critics of the co-op is St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar who said in an op-ed piece that combining resources gives the appearance of a substantial department, but the numbers are deceiving. It’s too early for statistical information to show if it’s working or not. But for the two nights Fox 2 News cameras went out on a ride along, there was not one call for police.