Springfield Police Face Challenges, Stay Hopeful With Low-Income Neighborhood

Posted at 6:23 PM, Dec 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-28 19:23:11-05

The Springfield police chief said retaining officers would be the biggest task for the next chief.

David Thompson has decided to retire by the end of the week after serving as chief for the small city for nearly six years. He will say good-bye to nearly 40 years of work in law enforcement.

"There's a little bit of all of us that never wants to leave a job unfinished. It's time to turn the wheel over to someone else," the chief told NewsChannel 5.

Thompson said he has seen more than 30 officers leave the department whether it's retirement or resigning caused by the stressors of the job. 

"I've had men stand in this office with tears in their eyes and tell me they can't continue working here because of their family, their safety, and sanity," said Thompson.

Currently, there are at least five officer vacancies in a department which should have 41 officers. The number may seem small, but it can make a big impact to the force, including morale. 

"It's very stressful on the officers because they're working overtime and extra shifts. It's very tough on the officers to do that," added Thompson.

Thompson said that officers' lives have been threatened when responding to scenes, including being shot at or attempted stabbings. 

Hostility between police officers and several members of a high-crime neighborhood in the south part of Central Avenue is not new but has caused rifts.

"There's been a culture, a very antagonistic culture, particularly with some of the low-income areas. It's a tough place to police because quite frankly it's a dangerous place to police," said Thompson. "We've recruited officers from other cities with experience, and they come here and didn't last more than a couple of days."

The chief talked about how one officer left shortly after witnessing a woman's body dismembered in a freezer a few years ago. 

Despite the animosity, officials continue to try to better the relationships in an area where gang activity has riddled it for years.

In 2014, city officials began a Violent Crime Initiative in partnership with the Robertson County Sheriff's Office.

"There's still a disconnect with the community, but it wasn't how it was four years ago," said Segeant Michael Lyon as he drove around the neighborhood many call South Town.

Lyon has focused on the neighborhood, which is to blame for more than half of the most violent crimes in the city, 

He has worked to help improve relationships by engaging with community members. 

"I spent the first month just driving around with the window down waving at every single person as we went by," said Lyon.

From 2015 to 2016, Thompson said there were no murders. Violent crimes, which include murders and robberies, and property crimes went down 30 percent in the span of two years, according to the chief. 

"In this day in time it takes a special person to be a police officer. It takes an exceptional police officer to work in Springfield, Tennessee," he said. 

Thompson has been set to retire on December 31.