Following In Their Footsteps

 

The day Casey Graham was sworn in as Bollinger County’s sheriff, he set a record in Missouri and quite possibly the nation. He was the fourth generation of his family to hold that office in the same county.


Andrew J. (A.J.) Baker, his great-great grandfather, was sheriff from 1921 to 1924; Thomas E. (Mike) Graham, his great-grandfather, served from 1953 to 1956; and Edward A. (Eddie) Graham, his grandfather, held office from 1973 to 1980.


Although his great grandfather and great-great grandfather had passed away and his grandpa Eddie Graham was no longer serving by the time he was born, Sheriff Graham said he still heard lots of cops-and-robbers stories growing up — enough for him to know at an early age that he too wanted to work in law enforcement, eventually as sheriff.


“My grandpa actually lived in the sheriff’s office that I currently work in. Although the building was remodeled, the offices we now use were my dad’s, my uncle’s, and my grandparents’ bedrooms. My grandma cleaned, cooked and did all the laundry for the inmates. She also answered the calls that came in and kind-of dispatched, but back in the 1970s it wasn’t structured so that basically meant she’d tell my grandpa and he’d respond,” he laughed, adding that one of his favorite stories was about two drunk 17-year-olds who broke into the sheriff’s office/home one night to swipe marijuana that had been seized and put on display. “I still have the newspaper story written about it.”


To begin the journey toward reaching his goal, after graduating high school in 2014, he enrolled in college fulltime and went to work as a corrections officer with the Bollinger County Sheriff’s Office. Then in 2016, while still working in the county jail, he switched from being a college student to a law enforcement academy student. After graduating, he moved to patrol, staying in that spot until 2018, when he was promoted to corporal and became a K9 handler and evidence supervisor for the sheriff’s office. His next step up was to road sergeant, but not too long after being promoted, he learned Sheriff Darin Shell was retiring and decided to throw his hat in the ring.


Because he was 24 at the time — one of the youngest to ever run for sheriff, some felt he was too young to get elected, “But my family and my fiancé Kayla, who organized campaign events and went door-to-door with me, had faith in me and knew I could do the job,” he said. Many others must have felt the same because he won with more votes than his two opponents combined.


Although Sheriff Graham faced a few challenges after taking office, things have been going smoothly and without too many changes.


“Sheriff Shell did a good job of moving the office forward during his two terms in office. He got us to the point where we knew we were set for success – we just had to run with it. I ran for sheriff because I wanted to continue guiding the office in the right direction and continue improving on the service we provide to the community,” he said.


One of the changes he made was to create a position for a fulltime investigator to take the lead on narcotics, sex crimes, assaults, and burglary investigations, and take some of the load off the deputies.


“Right now, we’re overwhelmed in court because COVID restrictions lifted so a lot of my days are spent working as a bailiff. I also patrol, back up deputies on calls and take callouts in the evening and on weekends to help out.”


He has spots for six patrol deputies and four school resource officers, who double as patrol deputies when school lets out and tourist season kicks in. But they’re not at full capacity.


“My biggest challenge since taking office has been getting qualified applicants. I know that’s an issue in every career right now but it’s especially difficult in law enforcement. Smaller counties like ours are at an even bigger disadvantage because we can’t pay what people are worth. I talk to our commissioners about this weekly because agencies 20 minutes away start officers at $5,000 to $10,000 more a year,” he said. “Because we’re shorthanded, we sometimes have just one deputy working the entire 600-square-mile county. The employees we have are wonderful — top-notch. We just need a few more like them, but I haven’t found the answer yet to get them here.”


Even though they’re stretched thin at times, Sheriff Graham still feels they are doing a good job serving the community, “and that’s the most fulfilling part of the job. We all take an oath to serve and protect the community and it feels good to know we are doing that. It’s also satisfying to see my staff happy, committed to their jobs and willing to work together to accomplish our goal. I wanted a family friendly atmosphere in the office, where everyone supports each other, and we have that. We’re a rural county so we don’t have the luxury of having all the latest technology and the newest equipment, but one thing we do have is a great staff. My goal has been to make sure they know they aren’t just a number — that each person is an important part of the puzzle. It doesn’t matter if you are a communications officer, corrections officer, or the lead detective on a homicide case, everyone has an important role in keeping the office moving forward.”

 

By Nancy Zoellner

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