Poteau PD: An inside look

Poteau Police Department officers line up to arrest a Fort Smith, Ark., homicide suspect at a local motel during a 2015 case. From left, Patrolman Jeremy Lamb, Detective Dustin McKinney, Patrolman Justin Dodson, Cpl. Brandon McDaniel, Patrolman Kurt Morsund, Assistant Chief Greg Russell and Detective Mark Kannady.
Amanda Corbin
News Reporter

It’s the experience, education and dedication of his police officers that allows Police Chief Stephen Fruen to not question the reliability of his department.

“We are the best law enforcement agency this side of the 35,” he said.

Poteau Police Department boasts 26 officers. Within that, there are three in administration, four detectives, three patrol sergeants, three corporals and 13 patrolman, Fruen said. They also have two police K-9 officers — with K-9 dogs Sumo and Gundy, who are paired with Patrolman Jerimy Emmert and Tara Ibison, respectively. There are also two chaplains.

In addition to the officers, the department has four full-time dispatchers, two court employees and two animal control. There are nine reserve officers, who are unpaid and work at least 16 hours a month, if not more. Donnie Williams, the Poteau school resource officer, has advanced certification, which Fruen said is the highest which can be received. Fourteen officers are advanced certification, six are intermediate and six basic.

“This is the police department and the people in it,” Fruen said.

At total, the department’s officers have more than 300 years of combined experience with 11.8 average years of service. Currently, its oldest officer is Patrolman James Lowe at 55 years old. The youngest is Patrolman Michael Hughes, who is 23. Lowe also serves as a chaplain. Six officers are eligible for retirement.

From Jan. 1 to June 15, there have been 7,310 calls for service at the department, with 924 offenses recorded and 685 cases sent to the district attorney.

Here are a few offense types by number worked this year: 44 burglary/breaking and entering, 20 driving under the influence, 45 larceny or theft from a building (and 33 larceny/theft from other means), 38 shoplifting cases, 11 stolen vehicles, 11 varying sexual-related cases and 86 drug-related offenses.

There were 27 counterfeiting/forgery offenses, two robberies, 13 threats or intimidation and 45 assaults (simple or aggravated). There was even one case of arson, the department’s offense summary shows.

“There is a lot of support from the city in doing this job right,” Fruen said. “The City Council and mayor generously support what we do to make sure these guys are trained and certified.”

Fruen has been chief since June 2012 and Greg Russell assistant chief since November 2013.

Poteau Mayor Jeff Shockley said he is “very proud” of the department.

“They’re professional in attitude and attire,” Shockley said. “Truly to protect and to serve. In times of disaster or weather circumstance, they will do what it takes to help the community recover or be safe. We [city council and mayor] are proud to send officers for additional needed training at anytime.”

Fruen said his officers help with several charity events throughout the year. A few examples include Kids and Christmas, the Communitywide Trash Off, Shriners Softball Tournament and Special Olympics. Sgt. Gary Hecht was this year’s Top Fundraiser for Special Olympics’ Poteau Polar Plunge and was the 2018 Special Olympics Oklahoma Area 10 Volunteer of the Year. He became involved in the program after working a vehicle break-in where equipment for Special Olympics was stolen. He and Cpl. Brandon McDaniel took up donations to replace the gear.

Several officers also serve as instructors.

The department has instructors in these areas: 16 CLEET, two taser, two MILO Range Training, one rifle, drug recognition, two in standard field sobriety and instruct law enforcement driving training at Oklahoma State University. The department trains the officers at Carl Albert State College.

In-house, Fruen said they also offer a large variety of courses, such as basic grounded defense/weapon retentions, handcuffing techniques, rescue responses to active shooters, a course on tire deflation devices, building searches, how to identify child abuse or neglect, neck restraints, stalking, non-violent crisis intervention, domestic violence and danger assessment and more.

And the officers undergo a heavy load of training themselves, Fruen said.

Four are graduates of the Criminal Investigation Academy, 10 graduates of Leadership LeFlore County, four certified in clandestine laboratory training, four certified in field training officers and seven certified in the Reid technique of interviewing and interrogation. Twenty-four officers are patrol rifle certified and all 26 officers are Intoxilyzer 8000 and standard field sobriety certified. They also undergo 25 hours of continued education each year with two hours of mental health training.

“And,” Fruen added, “A majority of the guys do more than the minimum standard in mental health training.”

They are all trained in active shooter situations, sexual assault, Amber Alert and a number of members visit the Crimes Against Children Conference each year, which offers law enforcement resources on dealing with child victims of crime.

Several members of Poteau PD also have appointments.

Fruen is on the Region 5 Homeland Security Board, serving as Strike Team leader. Russell is board president with Women’s Crisis Services and a graduate of the FBI National Academy. Emmert, in addition to being the department’s K-9 officer, also does K-9 evaluations in CLEET for this region. He also does certification here and in parts of Tulsa. Patrolman Justin Dodson serves as the Southeast Region director for the Oklahoma Gang Investigation Association.

“Public safety is one of the most important things a city can offer its citizens,” Shockley said. “Good leadership and good officers help make us ‘above the ordinary.’”