The start of 2018 signaled the end of Washington’s municipal court.
The shutdown is just one change impacting the city’s police department in 2018. Other changes include the possible opening up a gun range, continuing to stay involved in the community and maintaining officer fitness, according to Washington Police Chief Ed Menefe.
Last summer the Washington City Council unanimously voted to disband the city’s municipal court effective Jan. 1. The change transfers cases normally handled in the city’s municipal court to the 20th Judicial District Circuit Court in Union.
Menefee said the closure shouldn’t be a major adjustment for his officers, but he does expect some growing pains.
“Enforcement wise, nothing really changes,” he said. “For the clerks, the first few months will be chaos.”
Figuring out the best way to do everything with a new court will take some time, he said. For example, one big change is the records Washington keeps will stay in Washington, but will have to be taken to Union when requested by the court.
Once everything is ironed out, Menefee said things should be easier on the city’s clerks and should allow more time to do something else.
Another adjustment is for people who are given tickets. Instead of going to court in Washington and paying fines at the police station, all of that will now be handled in Union.
“They’ll have to call over there for their continuances and stuff,” Menefee said. “When it was here, on Mondays and Tuesdays on court week, the phones were ringing off the hook with people asking to come next week.”
The move to close the court is in response to a September 2016 Supreme Court operating rule that imposes new segregations of powers and staffing requirements, among other stipulations.
City Attorney Mark Piontek told The Missourian “Rule 37” requires the municipal court be in a separate facility than the city’s police department. Court used to take place in the basement of the Public Safety building located at 301 Jefferson St.
Menefee is a big advocate for community policing and said the department will stay involved in 2018.
“We plan on doing more,” Menefee said.
In 2017 police did monthly Coffee With a Cop meetings, took part in a charity basketball game with other first responders. For the first time they took part in No Shave November.
Officers were allowed to grow beards during the month by making a cash donation to charity. The department raised more than $2,000 for a Make-A-Wish Foundation project spearheaded by Washington High School DECA students to raise money to send cancer patient Lazlo Schaefer and his family to Legoland in California.
Police also took part in the open door program at area schools. Open door events are intended to help first responders build relationships with young students.
Menefee said these events help build a bond between the police and the community.
“It gets that conversation going,” he said. “They have more of a feeling that they can call you and something will get done.”
Menefee also is optimistic that 2018 sees the opening of the department’s own shooting range.
The chief was hopeful the range would open last year, but never got finished as city crews worked on a variety of different projects. Menefee said significant progress was made on the site last year and it’s close to being ready for officers to use.
In March 2016, the city council unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing the purchase of a 4.2-acre tract near the city’s recycling center from the Washington 353 Redevelopment Corporation. According to a concept plan shown to the council, the proposed shooting range will measure 150 by 310 feet.
The range is being built by city crews. The range will be located behind where the city’s compost pile is, Menefee said. Officers will fire toward a levee/berm and away from the recycling center.
Without having its own range, Washington officers have to drive to Union for firearms training. The city can only use that range when it’s not in use by someone else.
Menefee said the new range here will give his officers freedom to do more training.
Along with firearms training, Menefee said 2018 will feature more general training.
“We keep the officers here trained very well,” he said.
One area of emphasis in 2017 was fitness training. For the first time the Washington department began instituting fitness standards for officers.
“They had to take a physical fitness test and they all passed,” he said. The test was just a preliminary test to see if they could do it. In a year we will implement the policy that says, you have to pass this test if you work here.”
Menefee said the officers get so many chances to try and pass the test if they fail. New officers are also required to pass the test.
Menefee said the fitness standards are becoming more common in police departments. He said last year, when the plan was unveiled, he noticed more officers hitting the gym and working out and eating different.
“It helps with officers’ health and their capabilities on the job,” he said. “You want them to be able to chase somebody without falling over from a heart attack or being able to help out a fellow officer when they need it.”