MARION — Before becoming a police officer, Mike Kitsmiller, Marion’s new police chief, had planned a career in agriculture.
He majored in agriculture, with an emphasis on economics, at the University of Missouri in Columbia, “planning to go into the business side of that industry.”
But that was in the ’80s, a time when the “farm market was kind of tanking.”
At the time, Kitsmiller was bartending a block from the police department, making it the ideal hangout spot for off-duty officers. He saw the bond — the brotherhood — between officers and found it appealing.
“I got to know some of the officers during that time,” he said. “And then I went on a couple ride-alongs with them, and I was pretty much sold.”
A Hoosier by birth, Kitsmiller, 55, grew up mostly between St. Louis, Mo., and Memphis, Tenn., and began his law enforcement career in Memphis in 1987.
He did everything from patrol to undercover narcotics and K-9 work. By his 12th year there, he’d worked his way into the investigative squad and then the robbery squad.
MOVE TO FBI
Then came the year when Memphis has 85 or 86 bank robberies, and the FBI arrived to form a task force.
Working with agents from the FBI piqued his interest.
“I loved the police work,” he said. “But seeing the agents and what they were getting to do working some of the bigger cases ... it was very tempting. And the timing was right. They were hiring, and my kids were still little so if we had to move, it wouldn’t be too complicated.”
Kitsmiller got the job and was assigned to the FBI office in Cedar Rapids in 1999.
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“I remember that first winter here was one of those winters where it seemed like it started snowing in October and didn’t stop until May, and my wife was, like, what have you gotten us into?”
Winter aside, the family settled in well, Kitsmiller said, while he bounced between Cedar Rapids and Washington, D.C.
IRAQ & OMAHA
After 9/11, Kitsmiller moved from criminal investigations to counterterrorism, and in 2004 was part of a team sent to Iraq to put together the criminal case against Saddam Hussein and others of the Ba’ath Party.
Four years later, Kitsmiller found himself overseeing the FBI’s offices in Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and the Quad Cities.
“I did that for six years and then it was suggested that I put in for a leadership position in Omaha, Neb., where I basically ran the day-to-day operations.” he said
In 2017, Kitsmiller found himself back in Iowa, this time working investigations out of the FBI office in Waterloo, where he worked for about two years.
By then, he’d worked for the FBI 20 years and was only a couple of years away from being eligible for retirement. He was thinking about it, when the Marion police chief’s job opened.
“It was like it was meant to be,” he said. “The timing couldn’t have been better for us. ... But I wouldn’t have put in for the job if I didn’t think I had something to offer. Some people talk about having a retirement job, and that’s not what I put in for.
“I really think that the department is going to grow. The city is definitely growing. And I think having worked at some bigger agencies, I’ve got some things I can do to help guide them along that route.”
Kitsmiller, who became chief Sept. 30 with an annual salary of $143,000, said he is now focused on getting to know the department, its 45 officers and 15 civilian employees, and how things work.
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Kitsmiller said he intends to move forward with the former Chief Joseph McHale’s five-year strategic plan, which includes adding 10 sworn officers and 12 civilian employees, upgrading technology, restructuring and reorganizing staff and better prioritizing service calls and officer response.
He also said he plans to keep the beat structure McHale put in place for patrols, possibly with some modification.
“I think my experience with the FBI is what really made me stand out during the interview process, and I think it also will benefit the department,” he said. “The FBI’s use of intelligence and intelligence-driven strategies, where everything they do is kind of based off intelligence and data, and using that information to prioritize cases and allocate resources, I think those were the types of skills the city was looking for.”
The chief said he also plans to put a succession plan in place so when it comes time for him to retire, a successor will be ready to step in and take his place.
Kitsmiller said he also has ideas centered on community outreach and for beefing up recruitment efforts.
But for now, he said, it’s about getting to know the city, the department and the people and hearing what they think the department needs in terms of programs and leadership.
“I want everybody in this building to be comfortable enough to come and talk to me about whatever is on their mind,” he said. “If they’ve got a complaint, I want to hear it. If they’ve got ideas, I’m interested. If they think I’m wrong, I want to know.”
Most of all, he said, “I want to keep up with the growth — keep the department growing commensurate with the community — and ensure we are deploying our resources in a way that best serves the community.”
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