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Audrain Sherriff’s Office focuses on domestic violence

Posted on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at 10:43 am

Oller announces he is running for re-election

By Clay Coleman

MEXICO­—Summer’s children stood over her as she lay on the carpet, bleeding. Only moments before, she had been arguing with her husband about a loaded gun in the house. She had suffered years of domestic violence, years of abuse and neglect, and when she finally stood up to her abuser, when she finally had had enough, the gun went off, and she lay there dying in the arms of her children.
“Audrain County had the highest rate of domestic violence per capita of any county in the state of Missouri,” Sheriff Matt Oller recounts during an interview about his recent filing for re-election as Audrain County Sheriff.
“Back in 2018, I applied for a grant that funds a dedicated domestic abuse and sexual violence investigator.”
In the past, deputies would respond to a domestic violence call, finish up, then go on to 40 or 50 more calls. Valuable evidence was falling through the cracks.
“Now, we have an investigator whose sole function is to follow-up with the victims, collect evidence, and interface with the prosecutor’s office and victims advocacy groups,” Oller says. “The feedback we have received from crime victims has been nothing but positive.”
Born and raised in western Illinois, Oller has spent the majority of his life serving others. A tanker during Operation Desert Storm, Oller, and his wife, Suzanne, relocated to the county in 2002.
“I started as an investigator attached to the Highway Patrol Narcotics Unit,” Oller says. “After four years of doing that, I came back to the Audrain County Sheriffs’ Office as a sergeant in 2006. I’ve been serving the county ever since.”
Starting at the sheriff’s office, running patrols, and doing investigations, Oller quickly moved up the ranks in supervisory and administrative roles, culminating with his election as Audrain County sheriff in 2017.
“I realized back in 2016, that if someone not familiar with the sheriff’s office, not familiar with the needs of the county, was elected, there was a real chance that service to our citizens would be impacted negatively,” Oller recalled about his decision to run for office four years ago. “I still feel the same way today.”
The last four years have been a busy time for Oller. As well as hiring a dedicated domestic violence investigator, he has led his department with upgraded digital communications using the Missouri Statewide Wireless Interoperable Network (MOSWIN) system, hired an officer dedicated to gathering electronic evidence, instituted an aggressive fleet management program, and repaired relationships with other agencies in the county.
“Back in 2018, Vandalia had some staffing issues, so we sent deputies over there to help out,” Oller said, discussing the firing of three Vandalia deputies in January 2017. “Initially, it was supposed to be for 60 days, but we ended up going closer to 100 days. That built bridges that were never there before. We have a good working relationship now. I can call Chief Benjamin or City Administrator Berry any day of the week.”
One of the areas Oller is most proud of is the department’s canine program. Going without a canine in the department since 2002, Oller was approached about bringing on a police dog, shortly after taking office.
“A deputy approached me about running a canine, and when I saw he was serious, I got serious,” Oller recalled his conversation with the officer. “Initially, we spent close to $20,000 on the dog. That included purchasing and training during its first year. In 2019 alone, the dog had assisted in 70 drug-related arrests, tracked a missing person, and deployed on numerous warrant arrests. Now, we spend close to $5,000 on the dog annually. I feel that’s a small price to pay for such a valuable asset.”
But times are changing in Audrain County. With the passage of medical marijuana laws in the state, and recreational marijuana now legal in Illinois, Oller is committed to meeting the challenges that lay ahead.
“We are an ever-evolving department, and as people change, ideas change, and laws change, we will change with them,” Oller said. “It’s here, and the only thing we can do is to adapt and move forward.” When asked if his department has instituted new guidelines, Oller said he is still waiting for guidance from the state.
“We’ve already adapted to a degree, and have received information from the Department of Health, but we are still waiting for guidance from the attorney general’s office.”
Unfortunately, one thing that doesn’t seem to change is the incidents of domestic violence in Audrain County.
“During my next term, one of the things I’m going to look into is asking the state for another domestic violence officer,” Oller said. “The domestic violence investigator is on a two-year grant, which we just renewed last January. If the workload continues at its current rate, we will look into hiring another one.”
One agency that appreciates Oller’s commitment to the community is Our Safe Place, formerly Audrain County Lethality program (ACCIS), out of Mexico, Mo. Our Safe Place has provided help and shelter to more than 3,000 victims of domestic violence in the county.
“We have a great working relationship with Sheriff Oller,” said Peggy Payne, executive director of Our Safe Place. “Matt raises awareness, shares things with the community, and we touch base with his domestic assault investigator, two to three times a week.”
When asked how her relationship with Oller’s department differs from others she’s worked with in the past, Peggy said, “I’ve worked with other sheriff’s departments, and the perception I’ve gotten has always been one of, “We don’t have this problem here.” Not Matt. He’s on the victim’s side. He is making a difference.”
During his career in children’s TV, Fred Rodgers would remind his viewers to “look for the helpers,” when they were frightened about something they didn’t understand. He told them to seek out those in uniform, find someone to protect and look after you, and they will lead you to safety. As Summer lay there dying, her children reached down and picked up her phone and called them, called those helpers, but it was too late. Summer died in the hospital. For Oller and his team at the sheriff’s department, they strive to make sure it will never be too late for anyone again.
Oller is currently running unopposed for the re-election of Audrain County Sheriff next November. The deadline for filing is March 31.
If you are a victim of domestic violence and need help, contact ACCIS / Our Safe Place at 1-800-246-2280.