New officer joins Yellow Springs Police Department
- Published: October 20, 2016
There’s a new officer in town, a new addition to the Yellow Springs Police Department who will add to a force that recently has been down three officers. Officer Allison Saurber, 22, arrived about a month ago from Butler County, where she worked as a corrections officer. Saurber has been training with fellow Yellow Springs officers since she arrived, learning not only the ins and outs of the village but the skills of a beat cop as well, as her assignment in Yellow Springs is the first patrol officer position of her career.
“Corrections was a huge learning experience,” she said. “It was a good base to start from.”
Her position fills part of the gap left by three outgoing officers. Former Yellow Springs officers Tom Sexton and Jessica (Frazier) Kessel recently left the Village to work for the Greene County Sheriff’s office, while officer John Whittemore was dismissed by the Village in July during his probationary period.
Saurber began her transition to the Yellow Springs force over a year ago, when she applied for a patrol position in Yellow Springs after graduating from the police academy. Saurber, along with an officer who took a position in Fairborn and former officer Whittemore, were the top three candidates for the position in Yellow Springs, according to Yellow Springs Police Chief David Hale. Whittemore ultimately filled the position, but Saurber’s name was still in the department’s file when the post came open again. Saurber currently lives in Butler County, where she grew up, and commutes an hour to work in Yellow Springs.
While Saurber hasn’t yet had patrol experience, this isn’t to say she is coming into the position totally green. She graduated from the police academy in 2015, then took a position at the Butler County Jail as a corrections officer, where she worked with inmates serving time on convictions that ranged from traffic citations to murder. Working in corrections wasn’t necessarily her first choice, but it was a position that held her commission as an officer until she became a patrol officer, which was her goal from the beginning (though family members in corrections always spoke highly of their job, she said).
Saurber underwent special training to learn skills specific to working with inmates. The Butler County facility holds around 1,000 inmates, male and female, and Saurber worked many posts in the jail, including working as a special deputy who took inmates to hospitals or other jails, and as the lone officer responsible for a pod of 96 inmates. She said she “really enjoyed” her duties there, and credits her time in corrections with providing an invaluable lesson in how to talk to people and how to relate to inmates as individuals.
“Just because you’re in jail doesn’t make you a bad person,” she said. “There were 96 people in my pod, all with a story. You have to have an open mind to work in this field.”
Saurber’s previous post also taught her lessons on how to mentally approach her job as an officer. “You have to learn to leave your day behind you,” she said. If a corrections officer comes into work in a bad mood or with a chip on her shoulder, the attitude can spread and inmates will play on that negativity, she said. Being able to detach from the events in one’s personal life makes an officer better equipped to focus on the duties of overseeing the inmate pod or the exigencies of being an officer on patrol, she added.
Since her arrival in the Yellow Springs department, Saurber spent a few weeks shadowing officer RJ Hawley and is currently shadowing officer David Meister. She has worked both day and night shifts, and worked last weekend at Street Fair. Her current shift is from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m., so she can see how the “evening takes on a different tone,” as Hale put it.
“To evaluate a person [as an officer], you have to see them going into shops and talking to people, and dealing with aggressive drunks, which is the majority of the calls at night,” he said.
Of course, there is more to the training than nighttime patrol. The police department’s field training manual has dozens of scenarios that an officer will ideally encounter in the course of her training, including stopping someone for an OVI or engaging with a suspicious person on foot (both of which Saurber has done). While some situations are unlikely to be experienced over the course of her training — bank robbery is not a common occurrence in Yellow Springs — the breadth of the training modules is designed to prepare Saurber for her duties as an officer. Her training officers offer criticism and feedback on the job, and a police sergeant reviews her daily actions at the end of the day. Moreover, her training is inextricably tied to the timbre of the village, Hale said. She is able to learn the nuances of village life as she gets on-the-job training, according to Hale.
One strength of the Yellow Springs Police Department is its close ties to the community, Hale said. Officers are on more familiar terms with residents in Yellow Springs than officers may be in other jurisdictions, and strive to more easily diffuse tense situations through talking. The training Saurber is getting underscores the ethos of community policing, according to Hale.
The importance of getting officers familiar with Yellow Springs is a lesson he learned over the course of the summer. The YSPD “departmentally failed” officer Whittemore by not making sure he understood the kind of policing expected by villagers and the Village Council, Hale said. Whittemore underwent training in Yellow Springs when he arrived, Hale said, but was “cut loose” after a few weeks due to his 16 years of experience working for other jurisdictions. Saurber will have a more robust training regimen, around 12 to 16 weeks’ worth, Hale said, considering her status as a rookie patrol officer and newcomer to the village.
“You can’t teach people to be someone they’re not,” he said. “But I think Officer Saurber’s personality will be a good fit in the village. Cops are tasked with certain social responsibilities, but we have to remember that people breaking laws are our neighbors.”
But too much familiarity can also lead to an officer letting his guard down, allowing himself or someone else to get hurt, Hale believes. Generally, the training an officer receives trains him to be a police officer, he said, irrespective of the community.
“We don’t have a lot of major crimes in Yellow Springs,” Hale said. “We just hope that our training can prepare an officer to handle a situation safely and concisely.”
So far, Saurber’s time on the Yellow Springs police force has been enjoyable, she said, noting that she especially enjoys going into businesses and talking to people. Residents have been very welcoming to her both as a new officer and a new face around town, she said. She has observed that Yellow Springs is a very open community, and one that is great at communicating what it wants, she said, which makes her even more aware of her actions as an officer.
“Instead of the big, mean police officer, I want to be the kind of individual people in the community want to see,” she said. “Like a resource to the community.”