By working in conjuncture with tuned-in members of tight-knit communities, the deputies are able to identify and solve problems quicker and easier, while creating an environment that allows for a more lenient enforcement discretion with education and growth in mind.

Once a mere campaign promise but now an implemented reality, Sheriff Tony Helm’s re-institution of community resource officers in outlying districts of Camden County has been welcomed by both law enforcement and citizens. 

Since the first week of January, CROs have been stationed in Stoutland, Macks Creek and Climax Springs for the first time in several years. These three deputies — with a combined total of over 65 years in law enforcement — were funded in the 2017 budget without any increase, Helms said proudly. 

“They have general deputy duties; they take reports; they investigate crimes,” he said. “Their involvement in the school — that’s where the nucleus is. They go into the schools, but they’re not school resource officers. Though, two of them are trained, full-fledged school resource officers and the third one will be this summer.” 

Meet Deputy George Belanger, Stoutland; Deputy Trey Scott, Macks Creek; and Deputy Larry Bowling, Climax Springs, although if you live in those areas there’s a good chance you already have and maybe even years ago. 

“Our primary duties and primary goals are to work together with the community as a union to solve problems, crimes, and other incidents that are occurring in the communities we serve,” said Bowling, who’s going on 39 years of law enforcement at the Lake including a stint as a school resource in Eldon. 

“We’re kind of interchangeable in the sense we all know people in these areas. We have friends and relatives all over these communities. We are embedded in these communities, and we’re also invested. We live here too. This is our home. These are our people.” 

The reciprocation that all three deputies appreciate by having a consistent presence, along with the communities they serve, can be as simple as a smiling, familiar face, an expression of gratitude, or as important as a reliable tip, necessary check-in on an elderly or disabled person or a positive role model for students. 

“They don’t see Deputy Bowling, they see Larry; they don’t see Deputy Belanger, they see George; they see Trey. It’s putting a familiar face on law enforcement, someone that they’re comfortable with and they can relate to,” Helms said. “We build trust. Normally, they might be reluctant to provide information, but now they know we’re not going to toss them under the bus. We follow up on things, we go see those people. We’re going to do an investigation. With that in mind, the community understands where we’re at.” 

Deputy Scott, who’s going on 18 years of law enforcement in Macks Creek, Sunrise Beach, Camdenton and Crocker, said the community-based approach is the only approach he’s ever known since earning the badge. 

“I’ve been a community-based resource officer since day one. My mentality has always been that way. I think that’s why I ended up being a school resource officer (in Camdenton and Crocker), because I wanted to reach the kids, help mold them and become adults and better citizens,” Scott said. “We understand what kids go through. We understand they make mistakes. We get to interact with the kids; they get to know you by going to games, picnics, community events.” 

By working in conjuncture with tuned-in members of tight-knit communities, the deputies are able to identify and solve problems quicker and easier, while creating an environment that allows for a more lenient enforcement discretion with education and growth in mind. 

“It’s working with the community like we have in the past. When I first went back into Stoutland, you could see the fear in some of the students’ eyes, because it’s been inundated around them to fear the police,” said Deputy Belanger, who’s spent his entire almost 23-year career with CCSO. “Those are the ones I smile at and talk to. When they see that we’re friends, we’re there for them, it works out better for them. They’re more motivated to get that diploma.” 

The position gives them opportunities to teach valuable life lessons and have a positive impact on their communities, which for long-time veterans like themselves, can be extremely uplifting and needed after previous days of unpredictable pursuits, drugs and weapons busts and unruly criminal encounters. 

“The positivity is almost infectious, it’s creeping into our other deputies, our dispatchers, which is really awesome to see. The morale is just phenomenal,” said Lt. Arlyne Page, who recently joined CCSO after more than 36 years with the Osage Beach Police Department. “You get to know your community, get to know those people who may be in need, may need service. That’s what we do — we serve people, across the board.” 

Sheriff Helms said his approach is one from decades’ past, but still can be successful in today’s current law enforcement environment. Back in the mid-1990’s, former Camden County Sheriff John Page sent Helms to a week-long community-oriented policing school that profoundly impacted his outlook as a public servant. As a law enforcement trainer himself, and someone who has been to hundreds of clinics, classes and courses, he described the experience as the “most interesting” and “most unique.” 

“What you’re doing here is essentially sliding law enforcement back about 35 years, and trying to get back in touch with the people — like the beat cops used to walk the blocks in big cities,” Helms said. “What we have now in law enforcement, I truly believe, is a lack of trust. It’s not so bad here in Camden County, but that’s what is happening overall. This gets the officer out of the car and puts them in touch with the people, the businesses, the schools. We know everybody and everybody knows us.” 

As a measure of good faith to the citizens, Helms purchased each of the deputies a cell phone, which they don’t have to keep on during off-hours, but all of them do, and encourages them to leave business cards with the number to everyone they run into. He said the $35-a-month charge for each cell phone is worth it for people to have a direct line to the person who is going to be in the best position to help.  

“The atmosphere has changed in a very real sense. It is more community-orientated now than it’s been in the past few years, no criticism implied or meant, but it’s a different approach than the citizens are used to,” Deputy Bowling said. “It translates into more production for the staff, more acceptance for law enforcement and a brighter future for these communities. These communities, they’re not chartered, there’s no local government, they look to somebody that can reach out to an existing governmental entity if they have a concern, whatever that may be, and we are that contact for them.” 

Deputy Belanger has already experienced first hand the potentially life-saving impact of establishing a consistent presence in a rural area, where neighbors can sometimes be few and far between. 

Last month, a Stoutland citizen was seriously injured when his truck rolled over the top of him while he was working on a fence gate. Belanger was going on his normal patrol route when the injured man was able to flag him down to render assistance. For his role in the nearly-fatal incident, Belanger will soon be awarded with a life-saving commendation, Helms said. 

“Wearing the badge is being a servant, it’s having a positive mindset. If not, you’re not a service to your brothers and sisters,” Belanger said. “In the last month, communities have learned we’re not primarily focused on writing tickets or making arrests. We are there as a resource — plain and simple. It’s making a difference. We’re accepted in the communities, because we care about those people and we are those people.” 

In the past two weeks, the department has recovered two stolen vehicles off of N. Hwy. 7, which the deputies attribute to successful efforts to reestablish connections amongst residents. 

“The interactions are providing information we wouldn’t normally have by just running the Highway 5, 7 and 54 corridors,” Deputy Bowling said. “Community-based policing has been a buzzword for a lot of law enforcement circles, but for us it’s what we’ve done throughout our careers.” 

Helms wanted to reassure the citizens in the rest of the county that everybody is receiving the same level of service and asked for patience as he intends to roll out more community-based programs throughout the first couple months of his new administration. 

“I want the citizens to know they have all the coverage they can get and not a single penny more was spent,” he said. “There are more people working on the road today than there has been in a long time.”