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Jasper County Tribune

Mayor: ‘He is not from Baxter, but he wants to help us’

New interim police chief outlines goals for Baxter

BAXTER – Ever since he was 3 years old, Adam Choat knew he wanted to be a police officer. He heard stories about his grandfather as a police officer, saw his father patrol the streets. He said he saw their impact on the community and learned the importance of community policing.

Now, the third-generation police officer aims to share his passion for community policing with Baxter in his newest role as part-time interim police chief.

“I remember when he started working as a police officer, as a little boy, I thought that was pretty neat. I loved spending time riding with him, riding the street,” the longtime police officer said. “My expertise is community involvement and school resource work ... my goal is to provide a department that is seen patrolling, interacting with the community.”

Back in August, the Jasper County Tribune reported Baxter Police Chief Rick Nichols was injured while on-duty in Colfax. The Tribune said the former mayor, Stephen Smith could not comment on the nature of the injury or confirm the exact length of Nichols’ absence, citing a personnel issue.

At that time, Baxter City Clerk Peg Kimberley said she received two documents from EMC Insurance July 7. The first document stated Nichols would be medically unable to work from May 29 to June 16, and the second extended the absence to July 15.

With the addition of the other full-time officer resigning last May to join the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, the City of Baxter was without a patrol force in city limits. To help supplement the need, the city first contracted the sheriff’s office to patrol the city from July 25 through Oct. 31 before settling on hiring two part-time officers during a special meeting Oct. 18.

With Nichols still out on medical leave, Baxter Mayor Gennypher Popenhagen said the council decided it was time to find someone to fill the leadership role while Nichols is out. Following a few conversations, a meet-and-greet with the council and a background check, the council approved Choat as Baxter’s new interim police chief March 12.

“We had heard some good (about Choat) from our part-time officers. Other conversations with the officers with Jasper County found that Adam would be a very good fit,” Popenhagen said. “We are hearing good things every time people approach us in conversation about our new interim chief.”

According to Choat, he officially started patrolling the streets of Baxter at the beginning of March. He said as he worked up the ladder filling roles such as a public information officer for Pleasant Hill, a DARE instructor and a school resource officer for Southeast Polk High School, one of his major goals for Baxter is to continue and improve community policing at the school,

In his first few weeks, the long-time police officer has had meetings with Baxter CSD superintendent, Todd Martin, begun patrolling the school’s halls and meeting the students.

“It is no secret that today’s law enforcement has a tough role. With the special focus groups against law enforcement, we saw what happened in Ferguson and how that kind of formed today’s history with how the community and law enforcement interact,” the Pleasant Hill resident said. “If the students can graduate from here and have a good memory of the policemen they have in the community, that is a win-win.”

In addition to filling the part-time interim chief position for the city, Choat has joined the newly formed special force at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. He said his new full-time position as police corporal at the fairgrounds allows him much flexibility with his schedule, allowing him to work two-day shifts a week in Baxter and cover evening meetings, community events and school games if needed.

“Eighty percent of the time during the week, (the state fairgrounds) is quiet. They have 360 events throughout the year. They have things going on every weekend, but during the week it gets pretty quiet,” the interim chief said. “With the flexible scheduling I have at the state, I can come here to work and help (Baxter) out.”

Popenhagen said she and the city have been in contact with Nichols. She said the city does not have a timetable on when he will return, or when/if they will make any more decisions in regards to the police staffing situation.

“We are really trying to figure out the right structure is for the police department as far as staffing goes. Is it two full-time officers? Is it our chief and part-time officers?” she said. “(Choat) is just holding down the fort until we hear back from Rick and see if he is able to come back with his injury. Really we are in limbo. We just wanted to make sure we have that leadership until he is able to come back.”

No matter how the situation plays out, Choat said he is willing to fill whatever need he can fill for Baxter, whether it is serving as interim chief, stepping down to the part-time officer level or moving on away from the city. He said he is just happy to help.

“It is nice to see a police car patrolling again. They make sure to make it a point to make it out any events going on or meetings that are happening throughout the community while they are on-duty,” Popenhagen said. “He is not from Baxter, but he wants to help us so we can do whatever we need.”

Contact Anthony Victor Reyes at areyes@jaspercountytribune.com.

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