As evidenced by daily incident and arrest reports, two of the biggest problems in Sedalia are theft and drugs, but for that to change, Sedalia Police Sgt. Chet Mackiewicz said it is going to take the support of the people and the holders of the purse strings.
The 38-year veteran officer stressed it’s not just Sedalia facing these problems. This combination of stealing to buy drugs and selling drugs to buy more drugs is present in towns across America.
“That’s not just Sedalia, that’s every town USA,” Mackiewicz said. “People that are abusing drugs become very ‘into’ that and they don’t hold jobs, so they can’t support themselves. The only way they can support themselves is selling drugs or stealing.”
Local authorities are taking a proactive stance against these problems, Mackiewicz said. The department is one of few in the nation, in a city this size, that has a dedicated drug unit.
“I think our mayor and council and chief of police are as proactive as they can be within their resources. They try to hit it hard and they concentrate on it. Our people are serving search warrants a couple times a week,” Mackiewicz said “I think part of the bigger picture is that the judicial system, outside the city of Sedalia, is broken.”
With extreme cuts to mental health in Missouri and cuts to drug education programs and treatment, law enforcement often finds themselves without options other than incarceration.
“We’ve got so much money going into prisons and jails and very few drug programs and almost nonexistent are mental health programs,” Mackiewicz said. “The same people are going into prison with a drug problem. They’ve got the same availability of drugs in prison, the same network. They come out and nothing changes.”
Is there an answer to closing the revolving door?
“I don’t think it’s fixable, because to fix it we’ve got to have a bigger portion of those funds going into drug treatment and mental health. Those funds are not available unless they take them from the custody part of corrections and they are already working at minimum staffing, so there is no place for that money to come from. We are in this vicious cycle,” Mackiewicz said.
“I see Sedalia in the same situation, we continue to send people in that are drug addicts or caught in the whole drug culture. We send them away, bring them back, send them away, bring them back and that’s the game, that’s what we do, but it carries over into all the thefts, the break-ins of cars.”
If there is an answer, it may lie in a tax increase or shifting money from corrections, two propositions that often fail to garner public support.
“I don’t know the fix to it, or if the politicians can fix it because the money has got to come from somewhere,” Mackiewicz said. “One of the news items that attract negative attention is when whatever state prison system is going to turn loose inmates due to overcrowding. Well, if they are going to shift money into mental health or drug treatment that is probably what has to happen. But, people don’t want that. They want to keep them locked up.”
Like many in modern law enforcement, he tries a community-based approach if possible.
“Part of what the police do is catching bad guys, but if we can catch bad guys and if it has to do with a drug addiction, we can give them some advice and offer some treatment options,” Mackiewicz said. “A lot of times they have burnt their family and friends out, and we let them know if they want to fix that there are options.”
He said he prefers this alternative because experience has taught him police work is not all about “catching the bad guys.” He said he tries to look at the big picture.
“There is some value in handling a big case and making a good arrest, but for me by bedtime it’s gone,” Mackiewicz said. “When somebody that you don’t remember comes up to when you’re shopping and says ‘Hey Officer Mackiewicz, you arrested me six years ago and I went to prison, but I’m doing good now and this is my little boy’ that’s when you realize there is a bigger picture to it, than just catching bad guys.
“That person is not going to go to prison again. That person is not going to victimize the public anymore and you have actually fixed something. If you arrest someone and they go to court and get a fine or a couple days in jail, that does not fix the problem, it just recycles it. We call it, our terminology is, ‘catch and release.’”
After 38 years on the job, more than 20 years in Illinois and 16 years in Sedalia, he is not interested in a career change anytime soon. He said his years in law enforcement have been good ones and have gone by too fast.
“This job either fits you or it doesn’t. There is very little middle ground,” Mackiewicz said. “If it does, it’s just a good time and the time goes really fast. You come to work and you have no idea what you’re going to get into. It will sadden me to eventually let it go, but those times come. I wouldn’t do anything different.”