In the few short months since being sworn in as the Providence Police chief, Todd Jones has seen a lot of good changes in the city of Providence, and he expects more. But its going to take a combined effort from law enforcement, city officials and residents to get the city's path righted.
"The churches have really stepped up to the plate," Jones said. "We've had several prayer services for the community. The mayor is a good Christian man, and he is out looking for new opportunities and new jobs for the city of Providence."
Over the past few years, PPD's image has taken some big hits. With one officer being convicted on federal charges of violating a suspects rights and another taking a plea bargin in local court on official misconduct charges, the department has developed an image in the public eye. Other citizens have posted on Facebook,
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saying they've reported crimes to local police in the past, only to have nothing done.
Jones doesn't like to talk about that. He sees the department heading in a new direction, with new officers and a new vision. He isn't looking to blame anyone for the past, but wants to see the city take control of its future. He wants citizens to know that if they report a crime, it will be taken seriously.
Currenlty the department employes four officers, in addition to Chief Jones. William Tabor and Matt Benton are fulltime, certified patrolmen. Carl Scheer is a month away from graduating from the police academy. Issac Frias is awaiting his turn to attend the academy. There are up to two other positions open, which the department hopes to fill.
Since joining the department, Jones said that his biggest concern in the city has been with substance abuse.
"The reach that substance abuse seems to have on the community is concerning," he said. "That leads to domestic abuse and child abuse. Child abuse, that is my own greatest concern."
Jones said that since joining the department, he has made making regular visits to Providence Elementary School a part of his job. The city does not have a contract to provide the district with a resource officer, but to the chief, spending time with those young people is one of the best things the department can do.
"When you can call one of those kids by name and they run up and give you a hug, you know you've made a difference in their life," Jones said. "We have a lot of children in this community that don't sleep in beds at night. They sleep on the floor while mom and dad are up doing drugs."
He added that many children in Providence Elementary aren't looking forward to summer break, when they will be at home for the next three months. They'd rather be in school, where theye have air conditioning and two meals per day. Several have asked him about summer programs such as church camp or the sheriff's camp, but PPD doesn't have the resources to send them.
With adults, Jones said that with the substance abuse problem, its common for drug users to contact the police.
"When they come to us and mention that they're considering suicide, they know they'll get several days in the hospital," he said.
While he said he doesn't want to see people trying to use the department's compassion to get out of drug charges, he is hopeful that people will come to officers for help.
"If someone has a substance abuse problem and really wants help, I want them to call me," Jones said. "They can tell me they need help and I will do what I can to see that they get help, without criminal prosecution. They doesn't mean they will get a get out of jail free card, but I will do what I can."
Jones said that in addition to the drug problem, there is also an issue around town with petty theft, which he credits to the existing drug problem.
"The petty crime rate is about what you would expect," he said. "I think its mostly people stealing stuff to pawn so they'll have drug money."
For residents looking to help police clean up Providence, but not wanting to get personally involved, Jones has released a "Tip Card", which is included with this story.
"Cut it out, fill it out and drop it in with your utility bill," he said. "Or you can seal it up in an unmarked envelope with my name on it and drop it in the drop box. If you have a tip that is outside of Providence or even outside the city, I'll be your liason. Even if its in Hopkins County, I'll see that it gets to the proper authorites and that it gets investigated."
Jones said he wants Providence to be like the towns people remember growing up in, back when everybody was looking out for everybody else.
"If you are up to no good, I want you to know that your neighbors are watching you," he said.
Reach MATT HUGHES at 270-667-2068 or email@example.com.