Oran police chief will not change ways

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Some complained that the chief is going "overboard" in the small town.

ORAN, Mo. -- The embattled chief of police in Oran has a message for his detractors -- he's not giving up, and he will enforce the law.

Chief Marc Tragesser has been under fire for sweeping into town and trying to go against its established policing culture.

Tragesser's approach to law enforcement is more demanding than his predecessor, Howard Stevens, and that has many in town mad enough to demand his resignation. They took their beefs to the city government last week.

Tragesser had been a policeman for nearly five years in Charleston and East Prairie before coming to Oran.

Before going into law enforcement, the 38-year-old chalked up 14 years of active military service in the U.S. Navy.

Since taking the job, Tragesser has written eight citations (four of them to one person) and given 11 verbal warnings for offenses like loud stereos, driving with a revoked license, driving while intoxicated, failure to stop at stop signs and speeding.

Those tickets are handled by the county courts in Benton, since Oran doesn't have a municipal judge. Ticketed parties can either pay their fines in Oran or go to court in Benton.

While eight citations may not seem like much, Stevens said he himself hadn't issued a single ticket in the past three or four years.

Two sources in the town of 1,200, both of whom wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said the chief is trying to change things too fast in a town that's set in its ways.

"It's kind of ignorant," said one of the sources who was stopped for having a loud stereo in the middle of the afternoon. "He's stepped on too many people's toes. There's doing your job and then there's going overboard."

Stevens, who retired from the post July 1 after nearly three decades on the job, said he hadn't written a ticket in decades. The new chief might be making too many waves, and enemies, in the small community, Stevens said.

"For a period of the past three or four years I didn't write traffic tickets," he said. "I used to give a lot of tickets before people got the right idea and straightened up. I didn't think the town was that bad."

Tragesser said he spent the first week on the new job straightening up an office that was left in disarray and trying to build a working relationship with townspeople. He went to local businesses introducing himself as the new chief, trying to put on a friendly face.

Stevens said the new chief seems like he's trying to make people angry with his negative comments about the former head of police and his more aggressive approach to law enforcement.

Problems surfaced after Tragesser started patrolling the streets. After the new chief began making traffic stops, his personal vehicle was vandalized. But he says rumors about his approach to policing began flying before he even did any traffic work.

One of those rumors, said Tragesser, was that he was writing seat-belt tickets, something he said he hasn't done once in his brief tenure in Oran. The Missouri State Highway Patrol has been in Oran writing seat-belt tickets, but he hasn't written any, he said.

Others approve of the job the new chief is doing. Jessica Tyler, a mother of two, said she feels Tragesser is making the town safer.

"I'm glad they didn't run him off," said Tyler. "I have two kids, and I don't want to have to look over my shoulder every time I drive down the road."

Elmer Seyer thinks most of the town is on the chief's side, and the ruckus is the result of complaints by a few bad apples.

"I think he's doing what most people want," said Seyer. "The problem some have is that it's a little abrupt."

Robert Williams said he likes the new approach, and if his 17-year-old son gets a ticket, then he should have been obeying the law.

Oran's mayor, Tom Urhahn, and the board of aldermen support Tragesser's policing, saying his work is already making the town safer. They say they've received several calls of support for the new chief.

"I've gotten a lot of comments from older people saying it was the best move we've made and to stick with it," said Ward I Alderman Herb Landewee. "I would say 90 percent of the people support him."

Making Oran safe for the public, and especially for kids, is what Tragesser said he's trying to do. The new chief thinks Oran's reputation as a laid-back town is attracting problems.

Just this week, he was called to assist with a teenager who had alcohol poisoning. Oran's reputation has invited these behaviors, said Tragesser, and he wants to change them.

"I took this job to protect the citizens, make the community safe and help it to grow," he said. "This is making me try harder. But the way I see it, without a challenge there's no reward."

Given time, said Urhahn, this whole controversy will blow over and Oran will adjust.

"If they treat him with respect and give him a chance it will work out for the best," he said.


335-6611, extension 182

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