- Michael Cooper Staff Writer
Lee Graf began his tenure as the new Chief of Police for the Springfield Police Division this week, replacing longtime chief Stephen Moody, who retired Dec. 1 after 14 years on the job.
Graf was sworn in by city of Springfield clerk Jill Pierce on Tuesday evening at the City Hall forum in front of a large group of family, friends and fellow officers from the police force.
“Obviously, it’s a challenge,” Graf said, “but for me, as I’ve gone through the ranks, this is the ultimate culmination.”
Graf, who has spent 21 years on the force, was most recently promoted to Captain in 2014. He takes over for Moody, who spent 43 years with the city.
He’ll lead a police force that has about a $15 million budget with about 120 employees.
Graf served in the Marines for six years, including in combat during Operation Desert Storm, before joining the Springfield Police Division in 1996. He was promoted from officer to sergeant in 2002 and to lieutenant in 2006. He also helped open the police substation on West Johnny Lytle Avenue.
“I’ve had a lot of good mentorship over the years, a lot of good police leaders, Chief Moody being one of them, (allowing me) to sit back and watch how they do things,” Graf said.
The police division is expected to hire nearly two dozen officers in the coming year because of low staffing numbers. As of last month, the division had 112 officers, well off its requirement of 130 officers.
More than 80 people took a civil service test held last weekend to become a police officer, Graf said. He spoke with about half of the recruits who tested and many were eager to join the force, he said.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and want to do this job,” Graf said. “It’s a matter of making sure we’re careful about how we go through our vetting and selection process to find the people who are the right fit for this community. They’re there. Out of many of those people I talked to, they have the right stuff to come and do this job.”
The police division has built great relationships within the community, Graf said. He wants new recruits to understand and enhance that relationship, he said.
“One of the things I plan to do right off the bat is when we start to get new people in, we’re going to take them out into the community, sit down with community leaders and just talk, have a dialogue,” Graf said. “We want them to have that sense of what are expectations are when they go out and police.”
Next year the city will operate its Safe Streets Task Force in the summer to help reduce gun violence and get drugs off the street. The drug unit and K-9 officers will also be working with the task force as well, Graf said. It will likely be fully-staffed with a sergeant and street officers in 2019, he said.
“The idea is to saturate an area where we know we’re having an issue,” Graf said. “A lot of times that officer’s presence will dampen issues. (The task force) is also there to address quality of life issues in neighborhood.”
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