Perspectives on Policing
with Loraine Burger
RISE Award Nominee: How this 3-cop dept. makes a big difference
The St. John police department was left short-handed more than two years ago, yet they still manage to above and beyond every day
Congratulations to the St. John Police Department, our first nominee for TASER and PoliceOne’s first-ever RISE Awards in the category “Agency of the Year.” A brief look into their daily lives illustrates why we believe this agency truly rises above the call of duty. We're still receiving nominations through September 15, so nominate an officer or department today!
Officer Charles Brown pulled into the parking lot of his town’s VFW to see a crowd of 200 pouring out of the hall and into the parking lot just after 2 a.m. As he pulled up he saw two men engaging in a fight – he knew backup was another town away.
Brown exited his vehicle and suddenly a human wall formed to keep him from the combative men. He pushed through the blockade of people — alone — until he got close enough to see several men stomping another man on the ground.
“Every time I reached for my pepper spray or my TASER I could feel someone in the crowd grabbing for it, so I had to re-holster it,” Brown recalled.
Eventually about eight separate fights broke out among the crowd. Brown was trying to simultaneously bring the victim of the first fight to his cruiser while breaking up the other brawls.
At the sound of glass breaking, Brown spun around to see the passenger of another vehicle had been stabbed in the ribcage with a broken bottle. The officer watched the man behind the wheel hit the gas; the open driver’s-side door knocking Brown onto his back in the middle of a still-volatile crowd.
It took seven minutes before the chief from another department arrived on scene.
While the incident wasn’t exactly typical for the town of St. John, the response time was. Brown always works alone, and calling for back-up means waiting for the nearest responding officer in the neighboring town.
Welcome to St. John
St. John, Kansas is as small town as they come. With a population of about 1,300 spanning less than two square miles, an average day for police can mean anything from minor thefts and domestic calls to animal control duties and unlocking cars.
That might be why the town council decided when the department went from a staff of four to a staff of three that hiring a replacement wasn’t necessary.
But like any other town, St. John does have its share of issues. A recent uptick in thefts and domestic calls has the three officers who patrol the town itching for a fourth officer. The news shocked the small community — which had recently experienced the first shooting in the town’s history.
A staff of three means long shifts; two officers on-duty at once is rare, roll call meetings are few and far between, and back-up is at least several minutes away and comes from a neighboring town.
Meet St. John PD
The St. John team met well before they patrolled the town together. Aaron Rudy was the supervisor for Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility before becoming sergeant at St. John PD. When a position opened at St. John, his former colleague, now chief of police Adam Sayler, called to tell him he should take the job.
Another corrections alumni and lifelong St. John resident Charles Brown joined the department as a patrol officer, and now the three rotate 12-hour shifts: eight hours on patrol and four more on call.
Chief Sayler patrols the town on top of his daily administrative duties, and manages the department’s social media pages, often on his off-time.
A single dispatcher works for St. John police along with the four other agencies in the county.
A Game of Politics
Chief Sayler described the conflicting arguments for and against hiring a fourth officer as a power struggle between the department and the town council.
“The chief [before me] had fifty years in law enforcement before retiring and he was a ‘yes’ man. They expected us to take the decision [to keep a staff of three] lying down and we chose not to do that.
“They brought in a consultant and he recommended reinstating a fourth officer, too. I don’t think that was the answer they were expecting, so another consultant was brought in and he suggested we all undergo physical fitness for duty evaluations, which we all passed with flying colors.”
Sayler went on to explain that the evaluation was simply to anger the department and possibly drive them out of town so the council could start from scratch. But Sayler, Brown and Rudy weren’t about to give up on St. John.
“Even though it’s a stressful job, you don’t get the kind of relationship the three of us have just anywhere,” said Sgt. Rudy. “We have a real sense of community here.”
“We have a love for St. John,” Officer Brown agreed, “It has its politics like any town does but it’s a good, decent town to raise a family in.”
A Juggling Act
Working injured, sick, on holidays, and for extended amounts of time is commonplace at St. John. All three officers go above and beyond to avoid calling out for any reason, knowing that doing so would mean their brother would have to work 24 hours — a consequence they’ve all dealt with before.
“One time I had a family member give us a scare, so I was out of town and then found out Sgt. Rudy had come down with the flu, so Sayler worked a 24-hour shift,” Brown recollected.
A time conflict the officers can’t avoid is their 40 yearly hours of mandated training — for which ‘convenient’ timing is nearly impossible to come by, and almost always means overtime.
Anyone who has worked in law enforcement knows how crucial downtime is, for one’s mental health, personal relationships, and even for their department. But vacation days still mean leaving the department short-handed, and unused vacation days are simply lost at St. John.
Brown says he’s lost 15 days of vacation because there wasn’t an opportune time to take them.
“The whole thing has us jumping through hoops; it’s just a mess and it stresses us out that much more.”
Still, Rudy, Brown and Sayler patrol their town with their heads held high — with pride for their town and for each other. Incredibly, the town has seen a drop in overall crime statistics since the department has been shorthanded — a fact Sayler credits to their involved community policing and recent social media efforts.
“I strongly believe St. John would no longer have a police department if it were not for these two amazing officers and men,” Chief Sayler said of Rudy and Brown. “Their commitment to duty, their community, their families, and me as their chief of police is truly what has held this department together for the last two and a half years.
“They have stuck in there for no other reason than their integrity and character simply won’t allow them to abandon their community and department.”
That is part of the reason why the St. John Police Department has been nominated for TASER and PoliceOne’s first-ever RISE Awards for the category “Agency of the Year,” a title they no-doubt fulfill day in and day out.
Do you know an officer or agency who rises above the call of duty? We're still receiving nominations through September 15, so nominate today!