The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Lake St. Louis Police Department as the August 2020 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo shows Officer Chris Schneider with kindergartners from the Wentzville School District.
It’s easy to imagine how thrilling it was for a five year old boy to ride to school in a police car with sirens blaring and lights blazing last September—or the excitement of the kindergarteners waiting to cheer their classmate, who had won the ride in a raffle at the Lake St. Louis Police Department (LSLPD) Open House.
It’s just as easy to understand how good LSLPD Officer Christopher Schneider felt giving this child a ride to remember and getting high fives from the children when the car arrived.
Building Relationships for the Future
“I feel that doing these things are very important,” Officer Schneider says. “We need to give people a good experience with us. A lot of the time the only contact we have is in negative situations, like a stop for a traffic violation or response to a crime.
And having positive interactions with young people is especially important,” he adds. “We’re building relationships for the future, when we’ll be connecting with these kids as adults. Even 10 years from now, the interaction they had with us is the impression that will stay with them.”
Schneider says that this approach to relationship building is one of the things that drew him to the LSLPD, and is characteristic of the department as a whole. Chief Chris DiGiuseppi stresses that community partnerships, collaboration, and outreach are essential to the safety of the area’s neighborhoods and business districts.
Increasing Safety through Community Policing
This approach has worked well for Lake St. Louis, where the crime rate has continued to go down over the past several years. “Our success has been built upon the foundation of community partnerships, public trust and helping people in need,” Chief DiGiuseppi says.
Adds Susan Ochs, the Lake St. Louis Community resource officer, “Community policing is built into our departmental culture. We work to create a climate that encourages people to collaborate in maintaining the well-being of our community, and cooperate with a lot of different entities in area, including businesses, nonprofits, the faith community, government agencies, and schools.
“We do a lot of outreach too, from blood drives to a bicycle co-op, and work with community volunteers to serve a broad spectrum of people,” she says.
Photo Contest Winner
The department also hosts a wide variety of events, such as the Open House, which brought representatives of local services—the fire, ambulance and public works departments, a local hospital, and child advocacy center among them—together with residents.
But their most unusual event is the annual Polar Plunge, a February fundraiser in which residents and LSLPD personnel alike run into the freezing lake to raise money for Special Olympic athletes.
Going Above and Beyond to Provide Care and Compassion
Mental health is also an important focus of the department’s outreach activities. Both Schneider and another officer, Derek Akins, were recipients of the 2020 John J. McAtee Award from Mental Health America of Eastern Missouri, a regional division of the nation’s leading nonprofit devoted to promoting mental health.
The award, which recognizes officers who go “above and beyond” to provide care and compassion to citizens with mental illness, was given to Schneider for his responses to a restaurant worker on the brink of a mental breakdown.
After coworkers overheard the man say “I have a shotgun and am going to end it all tonight,” they called the LSLPD for intervention. According to Schneider, “When I arrived, he was clearly at the end of his rope. From my crisis intervention training (CIT), I knew how to calm him down. We had a long conversation, during which I convinced him to get help.”
Schneider drove him to a local psychiatric hospital, where was admitted, and has checked up on the man since. “He said he is doing better, and other people I have spoken with have agreed with that.”
Officer Akins won the award for his response to a unusually angry driver during a traffic stop. Instead of reacting to the man’s strange behavior, Officer Akins asked if he was okay. As the driver began talking about his divorce and job problems, it became apparent he was in need of mental health resources. Akins arranged for him to be taken to a hospital for treatment. Later, the man wrote to Chief DiGiuseppi expressing gratitude for the compassion of Officer Akins and other officers who arrived on the scene, praising their professionalism in controlling what he described himself as a hostile situation.
Stressing the Importance of Body Language
Asked to comment on how he, Akins, and others with CIT training handle these events, Schneider says “We’re not trained to provide psychiatric help. We’re like Band-Aids that keep people together until they can get that kind of help.”
He also stresses the importance of good communication in handling potentially dangerous situations. “Young officers today have grown up communicating electronically. But you have to be able to talk to people in person, to be able to read body language and see their faces, to know if they’re angry or frightened, for instance.
Photo Contest Winner
“And the way we handle ourselves is very important too. A part of how we communicate is the way we stand and look; you have to be cognizant of all those things.”
And it’s evident from LSLPD’s winning photo that Schneider practices what he preaches, bending down to child height and smiling as he high-fives a gleeful crowd of kindergartners—creating a memory that the children, their parents, and teachers will carry with them for years to come.
Written by Sr. Technical Writer, Faye Elkins, with contributions from Officers Chris Schneider and Susan Ochs of the Lake St. Louis (Missouri) Police Department. Photo taken by Joe Richter, Public Relations Manager from the Wentzville R-IV School District., which submitted this entry to the photo contest.