Lake Saint Louis Police Chief Mike Force plans to retire in August, ending a more than 25-year stint as the community’s chief law enforcement officer.
“The timing is good I think, there are things going on in my life that make this a good time for it to happen,” said Force, whose last day is Aug. 14.
Force, 64, said he plans to remain involved with working with young people, law enforcement and with veterans’ health issues. A selection committee will review applications for his successor and the position is being advertised.
He also may continue writing fiction. Force and Assistant Police Chief Chris DiGiuseppi have written several novels.
Force came to the city from Minnesota, where he was a private businessman after retiring from the Marine Corps. He served in the Marines for 22 years, including time spent as a military policeman and overseeing operations at 27 military installations worldwide.
“I started a business and was doing very, very well but I kind of missed working with people at this level,” Force told Mid Rivers Newsmagazine. He got a telephone call from one of his wife’s friends who lived in the St. Louis area and told him that the Lake Saint Louis job would be perfect for him. So, he and his wife came here to visit and Force put in an application and became a finalist. During a final interview, he was asked why he should be selected over other qualified candidates.
“And I remember [that] I looked up for a moment and thought, and then said ‘Well, I’d ask you the same question. Why should I select Lake Saint Louis over all the opportunities I have?’”
He added that he thought Lake Saint Louis was a place where his family could be happy and where he could make positive change. He also told the city they should select the other finalist for the position if they thought that candidate was more qualified.
“I remember walking out of there and telling my wife not to pack anything, we’re not going anywhere,” Force said. “But evidently, I made an impression on them.”
Force succeeded John Selby and walked in the door to a department with 11 commissioned officers. The city’s population has grown to more than 15,000 in recent years and, along with that growth, has come changes in its police department, which now has 31 commissioned officers and 10 non-commissioned personnel.
What Force found when he walked in the door was an underpaid department [starting salary was just $14,500 for officers in 1992] staffed with personnel that often had questionable qualifications – “retreads, rejects and some in trouble in other places.”
“I would argue some of them were even criminals,” Force said.
He decided that hiring wasn’t going to be based solely on experience or qualifications but rather on values. A key question for applicants was “define policing – why are we here, what is our purpose,” Force said. “At the very crux of their answer has to be we help people.” That should be the focus of all police departments big or small, he added. “We have to realize our job is helping people.”
The department also has evolved in other ways, including developing a willingness to try out new, innovative approaches that may not have been explored in Lake Saint Louis years ago. Crime is no longer confined to certain parts of the metropolitan area and two social issues these days seem to underlie much criminal activity.
“One is drugs – if you look at any crime that is pervasive, you can tie it back to drugs,” Force said. The other is the deterioration or lessening of core social values that, years ago, seemed to have been shared by nearly all groups regardless of race or nationality. Force said some of the young people he talks to these days not only don’t respect anyone else’s life, they don’t respect their own.
Lake Saint Louis also is no longer an isolated island, particularly with the explosive growth of nearby O’Fallon and Wentzville in recent years, Force said. “The growth and changes around us certainly impact us and we have to be wise enough to understand that. If we think we’re going to remain the way we are today, we’re probably fooling ourselves.”
Force said the city has a very good police department that’s responsive to its community, its elected officials and to the officers that serve. The key, he said, is developing partnerships in the community.
That’s always the case with good police departments, he added. “If you look at the history of law enforcement in this country, you’ll find times that we, in general as a profession, have gotten away from that,” Force said. He stressed that partnerships are so important because each community is different.
Police departments have to respond to the needs of their unique communities, he said.
“When we start thinking that we know what people need or want more than what those people think they need or want, we are probably headed down he wrong path,” he said.