CLINTON —Jim Ballauer had had enough of big-city policing.
"I was just looking for a change," said Clinton's new deputy police chief. He came across an advertisement for the position of deputy chief in Clinton, researched the city and liked what he saw.
"What I like about Clinton is it's a smaller community, so it's easier to make a bigger impact," Ballauer said. Like Clinton's police chief, Kevin Gyrion, Ballauer came to Clinton from the Chicago Police Department.
Chicago is so big, and police are so busy there, Ballauer said. "It feels more rewarding [in Clinton]."
Ballauer was a lieutenant and a commanding officer in recruit training and firearms unit at the time he left Chicago PD, he said. Prior to that he was a tactical lieutenant in a plain-clothes unit that handled shootings, narcotics and gang activity, he said.
Ballauer arrived in Clinton in March, ending a 22-year career with the Chicago PD.
The biggest issues Ballauer deals with as a law enforcement officer in Clinton are problems with drugs and mental illness, he said.
Many police departments want to get away from treating drug and mental health problems as crimes, but they are skeptical about having mental health professionals assisting police, Ballauer said.
"It's already working here," Ballauer said. Mental health professionals meet police at call locations when a person's mental health is a concern. "It's what we were trying to get started in Chicago.”
Law enforcement officers go through crisis intervention training, Ballauer said, but it's not their main focus. Having people trained in mental health issues at the scene helps police do their job.
"They ride with us three days a week in response to calls of that nature," said Ballauer. On off days, they respond if police need them in certain situations.
"A lot of the country is talking about implementing it," said Ballauer. He was surprised that Clinton had already put the program in place. "It works. It honestly works."
Ballauer has seen people who are in crisis go to the police officer for help, he said. They know police will call social workers. "So, it's being effective," he said.
"There’s drugs everywhere," said Ballauer. That's never going to change. "We just deal with it the best we can."
But drug use is what often leads to other crimes, such as burglary. Addicts are looking for money for drugs. Using drugs shouldn't be a criminal offense, said Ballauer. "They need help," he said, not jail time.
Though Chicago is about 50% white and about 30% Black, racial tensions portrayed by the media do not reflect what Ballauer saw in Chicago. "I didn’t really experience that in Chicago," he said. "The [minority] neighborhoods that we worked in … were happy to have the police there."
Residents were tired of shootings and other crimes. "I had nothing but support from the communities that we policed in Chicago," Ballauer said.
He's had support from Clinton residents as well, though he's been here only two months. "I’ve loved it. I love the town. Everyone’s been very receptive," Ballauer said.
"I like to go and talk to people. I love the river front."
Ballauer's wife is a police officer with the Chicago PD and will move to Clinton when she retires in April, Ballauer said. Their daughter, Abigail, will be a freshman at the University of Iowa this fall.