By Blake Spurney
HESSTON – New Hesston Police Chief Chris Eilert was studying business at Butler Community College when he rode along with a friend who had joined the Wichita Police Department. He said he caught the bug of public service.
“Just the whole aspect of helping people,” he said. “I like to help people when I can. This job makes it very easy to do that.”
Eilert changed his major to administration of justice and graduated from Wichita State University in 1995. He first got on with Hesston in March 1999. He had been working in Hoisington and wanted to be closer to home. The 1990 Remington High School graduate also wanted to work for Curt Ford, who was police chief at the time.
Eilert was with Ford as a member of the Harvey County Emergency Response Team on April 9, 2005, when Ford was fatally shot by Gregory Moore. Eilert also was shot four times. Bullets struck him in the calf, finger, shoulder and the top of his hand.
Eilert left the department in 2014 to pursue some other opportunities, but he stayed on part-time. He returned to full-time duty two years later and was promoted back to his previous rank of sergeant in 2017. He said after getting promoted one naturally aspired to become chief.
“I honestly thought I would be police chief somewhere, but not here because I didn’t think I’d outlast Doug [Schroeder],” he said about his predecessor.
Eilert said he hadn’t gotten far enough along in the job to determine how the department might be different than under Schroeder. He said he would like the department to be more involved in the community, He envisions holding coffee-with-a-cop gatherings, at which police can answer questions about topics people might be reluctant to ask because they think they’re wasting officers’ time.
“In reality, that’s why we’re here,” he said. “The best crime fighting that occurs is catching something before it happens.”
Eilert said helping people avoid becoming victims of scams would save everybody time and effort. He said a lot of calls to the department involved scams. He said Hesston also had a fair amount of property crime, such as vehicle burglaries and some drugs. Most of the seizures involve marijuana, but he said police recently had recovered some heroin.
But overall, Eilert said Hesston was a very accepting place to live, work and raise a family.
“It’s nice to drive around here and wave at people and have people wave back,” he said.
One issue facing Hesston’s department is something endemic to agencies across the nation — a shortage of available candidates. When fully staffed, Hesston has eight officers, but it currently is three officers short. He said every other department with whom he’d spoken was looking for people. He said he was looking for candidates who would fit into the community. He said Hesston police had a specific way of meeting community wants and standards.
“I don’t know if it’s different,” he said about Hesston. “Each place you police differently, as to what citizens expect and to what they’re comfortable with.”
Eilert said residents generally didn’t call police when they had good news. Therefore, sometimes they aren’t happy to see officers. He stressed the importance of being nice and taking the time to listen to people.
“Even if the outcome is something they don’t really want, there’s less of an issue on the back end,” he said.