The great adventure began some months ago on September 6, 2010 - my first day as the chief of police with the Fort Dodge Police Department. In my time here, I have had the pleasure to meet with many of our citizens at various meetings and community events. In each case there are three questions that come up regularly in each conversation. The first deals with my professional background. After they understand my background, the next question is generally - Why Fort Dodge? The conversation quickly turns to the department - where it is at and where we are going. Each of these conversations are critical to our success and to help shape the direction we're headed.
My law enforcement career began 27 years ago in at the Sarpy County Sheriff's Department - the county bordering the south side of Omaha, Neb. I started there as a deputy working in the jail, attended the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center and worked the road patrol. It was an invaluable opportunity that helped me to understand law enforcement outside a metro area. It also provided a treasure chest of experiences on which to build a law enforcement career.
My passion for public service and the desire for a greater challenge prompted me to apply with the Omaha Police Department - OPD. On March 7, 1988, I started all over - sitting in OPD's Police Academy. Over the next 22 years I was blessed with and challenged by some of the best assignments the department and community had to offer. I spent much of my uniform patrol career working in North Omaha on all three shifts and at the ranks of officer, sergeant, lieutenant and captain. As a sergeant I worked Uniform Patrol, but spent the majority of my time supervising the Metro Area Fugitive Task Force. Working with federal, state and local partners our team would search for and apprehend the Omaha Metro areas most dangerous predators.
As a lieutenant I returned to North Omaha as the evening shift commander and then transitioned to the commander of the Emergency Response Unit - ERU. The Section, comprised of nearly 50 sworn members (special operations, bomb response, negotiators and tactical medics) were responsible for planning, coordinating and conducting the majority of the high risk operations in Omaha. I worked with other public safety partners to coordinate the multi-agency, multi-discipline security packages for the Men's College World Series, Olympic Swim Trials and other major events.
It was as a captain of the Northeast Precinct that I grew closest to our community members and leaders in North Omaha as we worked to address youth gang violence, to improve community-department relations and collaborations. My staff and I worked with the community to plan and conduct large and small scale community events, crime prevention and enforcement operations. Throughout my career with OPD I focused on top quality service, developing relationships with community members and leaders, placing others before myself and on trying to feed my lifelong desire to learn and be challenged.
Why Fort Dodge?
As I approached the end of my career with OPD I began looking to the future to plan the next progression in my professional life which leads to the second most frequently asked question: Why Fort Dodge? Much of that credit goes to my lovely wife - Nan. She was actually the first to find the posting on the chief's job. Her enthusiasm and support encouraged me to begin researching Fort Dodge - its challenges and opportunities. Through research, visits and the interview process I found a community built upon a strong Midwestern work ethic, enthusiastic and forward-looking city manager, mayor and City Council and a solid Police Department. The posting clearly painted a picture that provided a growth opportunity where I could both share the lessons I'd learned and an environment that would challenge me to grow. I also found some of the same crime and social concerns that I'd faced and overcome while working in Omaha. In all, Fort Dodge provided a clear opportunity to continue serving a vibrant community that has a bright future.
Fort Dodge Police Department
The third questions usually points to my assessment of our Police Department. In preparing for my new role I began conducting external and internal assessments of our department. How is staffing distributed? What are our strong points and where do we need to grow? The assessments revealed several strengths, two of the most important are:
Young department - I found a relatively young department - both in age and years of service. Our sworn staff averages six years of service. Their youth brings an inherent energy and passion for their chosen profession and the community that we serve. It also provides a clean foundation to build well-trained, committed force that will shape the future of Fort Dodge. They also tend to be more open to the benefits of positive change - at a personal, department and community levels.
Public safety partners - We work closely with all of our public safety partners - the Webster County attorney's Office, Webster County Sheriff's Department, Iowa Department of Public Safety - State Patrol, Division of Criminal Investigation and Division of Narcotics Enforcement, Crime Stoppers, Emergency Management and many others. In my career, it has become painfully clear that those who would prey upon our citizens do not care whether they are in Fort Dodge, rural Webster County or in any of other local communities. Sadly, experience also demonstrates that criminals easily transition between jurisdictions. Communities - like ours - that communicate effectively and work closely with each other, often share their limited resources more efficiently, recognize patterns much sooner and address regional issues as common problems.
The assessments also helped our command staff and I develop and shape the goals or focus points for 2011. It was clear that we had room to grow in some areas to reach maximize the potential in the department and community. The three focus points are clear communication, staff development and the capstone is providing top quality service to our community.
Communication - Internally it was clear that each section worked well within their area of expertise, but had room to grow when it came to sharing information between groups. Our effectiveness increased by standardizing how and when information is exchanged and through pre-shift briefings. Another example is the use of crime mapping or crime analysis - detectives looking at date, time and location of incidents and providing timely feedback to Patrol on areas to focus on to deter additional events, gather intelligence on possible suspects or interrupt crimes in progress. Fort Dodge has also begun work to utilize social media more effectively. We have built and operate a city of Fort Dodge Facebook page and using www.nixle.com - a government/community information-messaging program. Both sites provide clear, concise communication tools to get critical information out to the community efficiently. I would also encourage everyone to join us on Facebook and nixle to stay connected.
Staff development - A youthful department, although energetic and passionate, paints the clear need to anchor core values, provide top quality training and leadership development to help all our staff to successfully carry out their essential mission. Core values, like treating every person the way that you would want an officer to treat one of your loved ones helps to set clear expectations. In the past few months, our staff built two comprehensive orientation and field training programs for both Patrol and Special Services (Investigations). The programs are designed to insure that our officers have the essential knowledge, skills and abilities - and that they demonstrate the confidence to use them in real life situations. We are also currently working on reshaping our in-service training program to further enhance our seasoned officer's abilities and to keep them on the leading edge of policing issues that directly impact Fort Dodge. We are also working closely with Iowa Central Community College to develop training opportunities that would benefit both.
Top quality service - Our department members are the most visible image of Fort Dodge. Another core value that we constantly work on is providing top quality service. For us to be successful in that regard a couple things have to happen. First, we have to understand what the community wants and needs from our agency. More importantly, for us to succeed our customers need to have a fundamental understanding of our capabilities, resources and limitations. Programs like Neighborhood Watch, School Resource Officer and DARE all strive to improve the relationship, understanding and collaboration between our department and our citizens. A great example is our Webster County Sheriff's Department/Fort Dodge Police Department Reserve Deputy/Officer program. It is the only dual agency program in the state of Iowa and has become a model for other communities. Another program on the horizon is the Citizen's Academy. The course is generally three hours one night a week for six weeks. During each evening's class three segments of the public safety community conduct one hour presentations. Past classes have helped to develop and anchor strong, positive relationships with youth and adults attending - creating liaisons in the community to help their friends understand and effectively utilize our department's resources.
In closing, I would like to leave you with these thoughts. Although my time here has been short I have been very impressed by the passion, energy and vision of our citizens, peers and community leaders. I am confident that Fort Dodge is moving forward as a regional leader, not only in law enforcement, but also in many other ways and I am extremely excited about our future. It is my honor and privilege to serve as chief and to be allowed the privilege to help shape our community's future. My challenge to our community members is to work with us in partnership to shape the vision - to continue to build a strong foundation for our children and future for our community. If there is anything that our department or I can do to work toward that common goal, please don't hesitate to contact us. The department e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Timothy Carmody is chief of the Fort Dodge Police Department.