By Ann Leach
As Joplin continues to mourn the recently fallen officers of the Joplin Police Department, we sat down with Captain William Davis and survivor Officer Rick Hirshey for a frank conversation about how they and the department are coping. We at Show Me The Ozarks wish them well with their continued personal healing and in helping to keep Joplin safe.
Captain William Davis
SMTO: How are you balancing your grief with your professional duties?
Captain Davis: The last month has been very rough, not only for me personally, but for all the men and women of the Joplin Police Department. Being a police officer exposes you to a lot of negativity in society and a lot of trauma. Officers are typically encountering people at some of the worst times in their lives. They are sent to solve other people’s problems or help resolve an issue. They see death from an angle the public may never understand or comprehend. All the critical incidents over the past month have left a lot of emotional damage to our staff. However, we have some of the best officers in the entire country, and they are steadfast in their commitment to service for this community. As a department, we are bringing in outside resources to ensure our men and women have the tools and opportunity to handle the trauma they have experienced here lately. The men and women of JPD have an unwavering resolve to serve our great community, and they keep going day after day. Even at times when bad news breaks or another critical incident takes place, they are right back after it fulfilling their duties.
As for me personally, I have made sure to take care of myself mentally during all of this. I have reached out and sought advice and counseling to make sure I handle the situations I have gone through the right way. I know I owe that not only to myself and my co-workers, but also to my family. I also have to say I have the best staff ever. They have been a great support system for me at work, and I am truly blessed to be in the position I am in.
SMTO: How did it feel to see the outpouring of support when the community gathered to honor our most recent fallen officers?
Captain Davis: I first just want to say THANK YOU to everyone who offered support to JPD in any way, shape or form. From the calls, texts, emails, cards, letters, financial donations, food donations, supplies donations and so forth, it was just so amazing to see the level of support and love this community has for its law enforcement. We are truly blessed to serve such a wonderful community. I know there are other agencies in this country that wouldn’t get a fraction of that kind of support. So, again, thank you, thank you, thank you. The support everyone showed has really helped our men and women, and me personally, get through the tough times.
SMTO: What’s one thing you wish the public truly understood about a police department and its workings?
Captain Davis: The Joplin Police Department is a very busy operation. A lot of our officers spend their time going from one call to the next, and our availability for “proactive” enforcement is diminished. Often, I hear complaints about someone having to wait for a little bit for an officer to show up to their call, but each time, our officers handle it professionally and try to help them understand that all of our calls are dispatched on a priority/severity level. Later this month, we will have a consultant presenting his findings of our Resource Allocation Study, which he has spent the last year reviewing the department and a lot of data to figure out what ways we can be more efficient. We are anxiously awaiting his final recommendations.
SMTO: What do you wish you had to help the department run even more smoothly and efficiently?
Captain Davis: This is an easy one. More officers. Currently, we have 12 openings with three pending resignations. There are a total of 27 positions unavailable for duty when you factor in things like military leave, injury status, FMLA leave and so forth. That is a lot of positions to be down when we are only a 110-person department. So, for anyone reading this with a desire to be a police officer, feel free to reach out to us at Joplin PD. We would love to have you.
SMTO: Anything else you would like to add?
Captain Davis: People can follow our Facebook page as we are constantly trying to keep the community informed of new and eventful things happening with the police department. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to reach out to us at any time. We are here to serve the community in any way we can.
Officer Rick Hirshey
SMTO: First of all, how are you feeling and what are the doctor’s orders for your full recovery?
Officer Hirshey: I am doing well. The bullet went through my left cheek and came to rest in the soft tissue of my spine. It fractured my cheek bone, my jaw and my C1 vertebrae in my spine, but it missed my carotid artery and spinal cord. My mouth is wired shut to allow for my jaw bones to heal. My mouth will be wired shut for approximately 6 weeks total. I am wearing a neck restraint collar for up to 12 weeks to allow the fracture in my vertebrae to heal. I am restricted to lifting no more than 5 pounds, no driving as long as I have the neck collar, and someone has to be with me at all times until I get my mouth unwired so if I start to choke, they can use some wire cutters to cut the wires loose so I can breathe. There is a possibility of future surgeries to repair the sinus and facial bones. I also am doing light walking for exercise. Once my fractures heal, then I will begin physical therapy, and my neurologist said it will be approximately 4 to 5 months for total recovery.
SMTO: How will you navigate your return to duty when it comes to self-care, energy and physical and mental ability?
Officer Hirshey: The physical part of my recovery will take care of itself as long as I follow the doctor’s orders, eat properly, rest, exercise and be patient. As far as the mental health side, I have a strong faith that God has kept me here for a reason. I have strong support from my church community, the police chaplains (especially Bob Heath) and my brothers and sisters in the law enforcement community.
SMTO: What are three words you would use to describe what you were thinking/feeling as you left the hospital and saw the level of support from your community?
Officer Hirshey: Blessed. Supported. Hopeful.
SMTO: How did you know you wanted to be a police officer?
Officer Hirshey: My interest in law enforcement began when I was a student of John Karriman, studying martial arts. When I achieved my black belt with Mr. Karriman, he invited me to assist him with the defensive tactics at the MSSU Police Academy. This prompted my interest in law enforcement, so I went through the police academy and went to work as a police officer in Carthage for 5 years and then moved over to Joplin for 20 years. I retired from Joplin PD June 1, 2021, only to return to work at Joplin PD June 28, 2021. I spent the last 13 years as a school resource officer for Joplin, and after I returned from retirement, I was assigned to the crime prevention team.
SMTO: Anything else you would like to add?
Officer Hirshey: This last month has been the most emotionally and physically exhausting time for JPD that I have ever seen in my over 25 years in law enforcement, and yet my brothers and sisters gear up and go out to protect the citizens of Joplin knowing any of these things that have happened in the last month could happen again at any moment. So, for all the tremendous support we have received over this last month, I am truly grateful for that. For those on social media who continue to look at every incident through 20/20 vision after the fact and then whine about how you thought it should have been handled, we’re taking applications. If you think you can do better, come fill one out.