Local law enforcement’s involvement with our community is one of the major things that makes Marshalltown really unique in comparison to other places I’ve lived.
I’ve been wanting to get to the bottom of that for awhile and explore why and how that exists here. Friends, we are lucky…really really lucky…that our local law enforcement is so dedicated to and invested in our community. If you haven’t had a chance to have a conversation with anyone from the police department, I highly recommend it. They host Coffee with a Cop events and those events are a great way to get to know the people who are keeping us safe.
Marshalltown’s Chief of Police, Michael Tupper, leads by example and, although I know he wouldn’t want to take credit for this, he understands how to connect with the community and through this outreach, he greatly contributes to making Marshalltown a wonderful place to raise a family.
So, read on, for the Q&A. I hope you’ll find it as insightful, interesting, and entertaining (read the Fun Five questions at the bottom) as I did.
1. Chief Tupper, thanks for agreeing to this Q&A! We think it is so important for families to know local law enforcement and that’s, of course, a benefit of our relatively small (but mighty) community. For those who may not know you well, can you please tell us about your career in law enforcement and what brought you to Marshalltown?
I have worked in law enforcement for nearly 25 years. The last 13 years have been as a chief of police. I grew up in Dubuque and moved to Ottumwa out of college to go to work for the Ottumwa Police Department. I was in Ottumwa for 11.5 years. I worked my way up the ranks there from patrol officer to detective and ultimately sergeant. The last 3.5 years I worked in Ottumwa I was in command of the Investigation Unit. In 2004, I accepted the job as chief of Police in Nevada, Iowa.
I worked in Nevada until October of 2011 when I took the job as chief of police in Marshalltown. In 2011, my wife, Sarah, and I were looking for new professional challenges and wanted to live in a diverse community. We also wanted to remain in Central Iowa because it keeps us close to family. My early career in Ottumwa provided me with an opportunity to work in a very diverse community. I missed that. The opportunity to work in Marshalltown was a great fit for me professionally because it allowed me to grow as a professional and learn. Marshalltown was also a great fit for my family and we are very proud to call Marshalltown home.
2. How have things in law enforcement changed since you began?
Three things have changed significantly.
The biggest change is technology. When I walked in the door with the Ottumwa Police Department, there were three computers in the entire building. The detective commander, chief of police and the chief’s assistant had computers. That was it. Now we have computers in cars, cameras are everywhere and technology significant part of the law enforcement profession. Technology has allowed law enforcement to work smarter and be more efficient. Technology has also increased the costs of providing police services and it is very difficult to keep up with. Staying current and make good use of available technology is critical for law enforcement because the criminals are also using technology to their advantage.
The second thing that has changed significantly is the number of people who want to work in law enforcement. It has become very difficult to recruit and retain good employees. People just do not want this job anymore and the decline in both quantity and quality of candidates has been decreasing steadily for 20 years. It used to be a community like Marshalltown might attract 100 applicants for one job. Now we are fortunate if we have 25-30. The small applicant pool means that police agencies all over Iowa are competing for the same applicants in many cases. The hiring process has become a competitive and difficult endeavor.
The third thing that has changed is the professionalism and skill level of law enforcement officers. Despite the limited number of applicants, the ones that do ultimately earn the job are highly skilled and educated professionals. The education level and overall professionalism of law enforcement in Iowa has never been better.
3. We see a lot of negative stories in the news about law enforcement’s relationship with citizens yet as Police Chief you seem to have a positive working relationship with people all over the community. What do you attribute that to?
I am blessed to work with, around and for great people. I am also blessed to work in a great community. A community which supports public safety. This is rural Iowa. The heartland. We are down to earth and we support men and women in uniform and the people who serve in our communities. We work very hard at the Marshalltown Police Department to build and maintain the public trust. I deserve no credit for any of this. It is the men and women in the field, the rock stars working in the E911 center and all of our support staff who deserve all of the credit. Inside the walls of the PD, we talk about serving with passion and compassion. We have a golden rule of policing which asks our employees to serve unto others, as they would want a loved one served in a like position. We also ask our team members to lead each day with a sense of urgency. Our staff has bought into these concepts and they work tirelessly each day to serve and protect. I could not be more proud of their work.
We have also asked the community to be our partners. As community members, we all have a responsibility for policing our community and for keeping our neighborhoods safe. We have a community that is buying into this and is supportive. Sir Robert Peel is credited with founding modern policing. He established the Metropolitan police force in 1829 and once said, “The police are the public and the public are the police.” I believe this concept and we try to live this concept daily. Marshalltown is like no other community in Iowa. When there is a problem, we come together and solve the problem. Working as a community, we have been able to maintain positive police-community relationships despite the negative narrative we see on the national level.
4. Events like Coffee with a Cop, Citizens Police Academy, Sweat with the Police indicate that you’re really trying to outreach to the community. How/Why is this important to what you do?
These events are important because they allow community members to meet and greet our police department staff in a non-enforcement, non-confrontational and low stress setting. These events allow the community to get to know our police officers on a personal level and vice versa. I tell people all the time our police officers are normal, real people just like everyone else in our community. Once you sit down with someone over coffee, or you break bread with that person, a bond develops. It is much more difficult to hate, to be closed off or be distant with someone you have met personally. These events open dialogue and break down barriers. This allows us to get down to the brass tax of solving problems. We are able to connect and build trust. It also allows the community to tell us what is important to them. Establishing and maintaining open lines of communication with the public is job one here. Effective communication makes everything else we do easier and frankly makes everything else happen. These events have also shown our cops that they have a great deal of community support.
5. Tell us a little about the Marshalltown police force. How many officers are on the force?
When we are fully staffed, we have 43 police officers and 60 total employees. The vast majority of our police officers work as uniformed patrol officers. However, we have a small detective unit. We have also have a detective working in the local drug task force. We have a school resource officer at the high school. The police department also provides code enforcement and nuisance abatement services in the city. The police department manages the E911 center for all of Marshall County. We are currently short staffed and may continue to operate this way for the foreseeable future due to budget challenges facing the city.
6. Marshalltown voters recently approved a new building for the police and fire departments. Can you tell us how that project is coming along?
The building project is progressing slowly but is on a positive path. Currently we are in the building design phase of the project. Hopefully design will be completed this spring and construction will be bid by early summer. The current plan has construction starting in September. It will take 15-18 months to construct the new building.
7. What do you see as your biggest priority this year?
Our top priority is the same every year. Provide cost effective and professional police services while maintaining the public trust. Service with passion and compassion.
8. Can you give us 3 words you think of to describe Marshalltown?
Proud, Charitable, Purposeful
9. Why do you think Marshalltown is a great place for families?
We are a small town. We take care of each other. We know our neighbors (hopefully). Marshalltown is a safe community. The school district works diligently to provide an exceptional education for our kids. We are connected to our churches. We lend a helping hand to those in need. We are tolerant and inclusive. We look like the rest of the world and our diversity provides us with daily learning opportunities. We work hard and we work together to make Marshalltown great. We will not accept anything less than what is best for our community. We are building a great future for our kids.
10. Is there anything MPD needs from the community?
We need your help. We need your continued involvement in making sure our community and your neighborhoods remain safe. Get involved. Start a neighborhood watch group. Attend our citizens police academy. Attend a Coffee with a Cop event. Be engaged with our department. Let us know when you have a question or concern and by all means call us when you need help. My personal cellular telephone number is 641.777.3259. I am available to you 24/7 if you have a question or concern. I work for you. Your input and guidance is necessary so I can make sure we are providing the police services our community deserves. The only thing I ask, do not call me to report an in progress crime. Call 911. All other questions or concerns are fair game.
11. Anything else you want moms and families of Marshalltown to know?
We have a safe community here. Our schools are safe. The men and women of the Marshalltown Police Department work for you and want to be your partners. Working together, there is no problem we cannot solve.
1. Favorite food…Livers Caruso
2. Favorite football team…Green Bay Packers
3. Favorite Marshalltown event…Oktemberfest of course.
4. One word to describe yourself…Driven
5. One thing the community may not know about you…I have an embarrassing guilty pleasure. I am addicted to the Real Housewives of New Jersey. The drama and the chaos are too much to resist.