Photo by Charity Maness/Fall River County Herald Star
Hot Springs Police Chief Ross Norton continues his focus on serving the community
By Charity Maness
HOT SPRINGS – After one full year holding the title of City of Hot Springs Chief of Police, Ross Norton is confident his team is bringing exemplary law enforcement to the town.
“When I came into this position I knew I didn’t want to just hire people, I wanted them to be part of our community,” he said. “I am proud of the progress of our agency, our department, of how we’ve improved in the last 12 months as far as a family unit.”
“We are now competitive, our hours are competitive and our morale is high.”
As Chief, Norton wears many hats.
“When I took this position the City Council and Public Safety stressed they wanted a working chief, not just administrator. One that was on the road and taking calls, I do that. And now with our current staffing, I am also able to get caught up with evidence, administration duties, scheduling, payroll, report approvals, and more.”
According to Norton, 2023 was a year of open communication, transparency and training.
Norton implemented a once-a-month round table with all officers.
“This allows for clear communication,” he said, “I am glad we all have that time to connect and that connection. These meetings are invaluable.”
Any personal and personnel issues are also open for discussion at these meetings as Norton believes that any misunderstandings can manifest themselves to create a wedge between officers and fracture the family. So he chose the safe, open communication route and it has been working well.
Norton has also expanded training.
“Prior to me holding this position Jen (Winscot – previous Chief) and Phil (Shively) worked hard to get an increased training budget and when I got hired I had the budget authority to use that and we used just about every cent,” said Norton.
One training Norton is particularly proud of is the close conduct training his officers received. With law enforcement seeing a rise in close confrontations the course taught not only defensive tactics, but also techniques for hands on confrontation.
“The instructor was so impressed with the professionalism and quality of our officers he offered to come back this spring to possibly go to the next level of training.”
Advanced roadside impairment training has also been taught.
“This training helps eradicate criminal activity in general,” said Norton, “there is so much more to a traffic stop than searching for a drunk driver. We are not just driving around in a cop car, we are trained to know what to look for and the training helps us know what to look for to get better at your job, it’s not just getting windshield time.”
Recently knowing the signs to look for HSPD was able to remove more than 750 Fentanyl pills from circulation.
“We had a recent Fentanyl bust via a traffic stop and seized 750 to 1,000 pills,” said Norton. “An inexperienced officer could possibly have let that vehicle go, but thanks to the increased training budget they were aware of what to look for and noticed indicators, seemingly innocent but when taken in totality was not.”
Norton credits not only training but being fully staffed as well to a reduction of crime within the city.
“We are fully staffed, fully trained and turning over stones and interviewing people leading to search warrants and seizures,” he said. “When we were understaffed there were rampant burglaries and thefts and storage break ins. Thefts are often tied with the drug life so if you stop one thing it will have a trickledown effect and stop the next thing.”
“Drugs will always be an issue,” admits Norton, “however, with that being said with who we have working and their ambition they are working very hard to thwart that. We have a really good crew at county and city levels working well every day together. The officers are enthusiastic about interdiction and dui enforcement.”
Currently Norton says the most prevalent drug in Hot Springs is methamphetamine with almost half of evidence seized having methamphetamine substances in it.
Norton does still request help from the public. “If you see something say something,” he said, “we want to know about suspicious behavior.”
Other crimes on the rise are scams.
“If you think it’s a scam, hang up and call dispatch,” said Norton. “Never give any personal information such as address, name, date of birth, anything. The Sheriff Office will never call to collect a fee; the IRS will never call for a payment, do not send money or buy gift cards for payment. Please call dispatch.”
Recently there has been an uptick in scamming the elderly.
“Someone will call and say they are a relative in jail or stuck in a bad place and use it to fleece elderly folks into sending money. Again, if this happens, call dispatch, 605-745-4444,” advises Norton.
While the Justice Center is a county discussion, Norton believes the lack of a Justice Center will also affect the city.
“I am a huge advocate for it,” said Norton, “because if we don’t do something and our facility is closed due to lawsuits, which the commissioners are not held responsible, the Sheriff is, we could spend up to half a million dollars a year in transport alone; upon initial arrest we have to deliver to wherever that contract is held. This could lead to city officers transporting up to a 400 mile round trip, if our cops are turned into transport officers they are going to go somewhere else.”
Norton also points to the added cost of shift coverage.
“We have an 8 officer department, if I arrest at midnight and I am gone for 8 hours in transport, another guy has to come in to cover and now we are paying overtime and paying transport, mileage, vehicle maintenance, wear and tear.”
“We need new facilities,” said Norton.
Norton’s plans for 2024 are “to continue to grow our law enforcement family, continue that continuity, continue that training, and make a really good, well round agency for the town of Hot Springs with a goal to provide excellent law enforcement.”