MARBLE HILL, MO (KFVS) - Small rural police departments in the Heartland often struggle to keep enough officers on staff, and the station in Marble Hill, Missouri is getting help from an unlikely source.
The department is participating in a state-funded Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act youth employment program that gives young adults a chance to get a paid work experience and is also lightening the load for full-time police officers.
Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Vandeven has been home schooled his whole life and jumped at the job shadowing opportunity as a way to get his GED and explore a line of work he is interested in.
“I’ve always had a strong love for police. I’ve always loved their work.” Vandeven said. "I’m very happy to be part of this program and actually work with them and help them.”
And people in the community, like Nick Bruno, believe the small department needs all the help it can get.
“You need that police presence when something is going wrong or somebody needs help," Bruno said. "And I don’t think its for a lack of trying, it’s just a lack of funding and everything.”
Nick Bruno often visits his grandmother in Marble Hill and said she has told him about times when the local police were slow to respond to an emergency.
“My grandma talks a lot about how you can’t rely on the police to come and help you out in 20 minutes,” Bruno said. "So if there is an emergency people are calling their neighbors and relying on each other, but that doesn’t replace what an officer can do when he shows up.”
Since becoming chief of police last year, Marc Tragesser said one of his main goals it to bring on more staff so the department in Marble Hill has 24-7 coverage.
The chief has hired two full-time officers, and Vandeven who is working 20 hours a week during the busy afternoons.
“What this program does is it allows them to work in a field that they most want to go into and they get paid to do that,” Tragesser said. “And the state covers their insurance and workman’s comp and all that for them and it gives a department like mine that has limited resources a benefit.”
For months, Vandeven has been helping Marble Hill police write reports and file paperwork at the station.
“I am there to help them so they can focus on more important things, more important tasks and focus on taking those calls instead of being swamped in paper work,” he said.
And Vandeven plans to get more law enforcement training after he gets his diploma.
“When I do go into the police academy and I pass, I would love to come back here if I couldn’t get into Highway Patrol because I’ve roamed this town since I was little and I was just really like to serve this community,” Vandeven said.
By mid-May, Chief Tragesser said he will have two new part time officers working after they graduate the police academy, and they will be able to have two people working the streets during the busiest times of the night.
“It will support not only the citizens of Marble Hill but will take a big burden of the County Sheriff department because they have a lot to take care of out in the care and we try to take care of the city,” Tragesser said. “When we’re off the clock, we’re entitled to go shopping, eat and be with our families. People just don’t understand when they wonder where that police officer is at, well we’ve already done a 12 hour day.”
Tragesser said any employer can take advantage of the WIOA youth employment program you can email Denise Schimweg with the Workforce Development Board of Southeast Missouri at firstname.lastname@example.org.