Dedicated alumnus, police chief adapts to challenges
As chief of police for the Jacksonville Police Department, Adam Mefford ’97 is trained to thrive in chaos.
“With law enforcement, we always train for diverse situations,” Mefford explained. “Every day we come to work, it’s something different.”
Yet Mefford says few agencies were fully prepared for the challenges of functioning within a rapidly changing pandemic — a situation that has required a quick response over the past few weeks.
“Police typically train for an enemy we can see,” Mefford said. “In this case it’s an enemy that we can’t see. Tactically we were somewhat unprepared, but we have a good police department and they have adapted.”
Mefford says he has witnessed a wide range of reactions to the situation from his team, mirroring what is happening in the wider community. For members of law enforcement who already work in high risk situations, a global crisis can compound workplace stress. Making an arrest or answering a routine call can represent an unknown risk.
Mefford says a supportive community, open communication and relationships are vital. “Some people are not as worried, but others have a lot of anxiety,” he said. “You don’t see some of these concerns outside of a crisis situation. This is a fluid situation and it’s not something we can mitigate quickly.”
Under Mefford’s leadership, the JPD has taken a proactive approach that began in early March. Widespread strategies were implemented to protect officers and staff, as well as the general public. Mefford cites early steps — practicing social distancing when possible in responding to calls, staggering civilian shifts, implementing a rigorous sanitation process for squad cars and equipping officers with “COVID kits” that include personal protective equipment (PPE) — as all being vital to the successful response.
In his role, Mefford is also part of the area’s overall emergency operations response. This means he has been working closely with representatives from area agencies to develop a cohesive local plan. Mefford says that the group held a daily call for some time and now speaks three times a week. He is also making sure to communicate often with his department.
“We wanted to have one-on-one communication with our command staff. We wanted them to be able to ask questions and understand what our direction was. When things are changing so rapidly, sometimes by the hour, we wanted to make sure that things didn’t get lost in the shuffle. Speaking directly to our people was vital to get our message out,” he said.
Along with being involved in the Jacksonville community, Mefford has stayed involved with his alma mater since graduating. A native of Virginia, Illinois, Mefford transferred to IC to compete in baseball and football and to earn a degree in sociology.
Mefford has said that becoming an Illinois College student was a decision that shaped the person he is today. As a student, he was a standout student-athlete, earning a $10,000 award for being selected as Burger King’s Football Scholar Athlete of the Week. From that award, he established an endowed scholarship that has been awarded to students for 20 years. In 2018, he was inducted to the Illinois College Athletics Hall of Fame,
In recent years, Mefford has shared insight from his professional experiences working in criminal justice to benefit students in IC’s program. He has often visited the campus as a guest speaker and this past semester, Mefford began teaching his first course. Unfortunately, he had to transfer the role to another professor as classes moved remote and the pandemic response required his full attention.
I enjoy bringing my experiences to the classroom. And I am able to relate the chapters in the book with real life experience. I think students benefit from that and I enjoyed interacting and hearing their feedback.
Mefford is open to the possibility of teaching future courses at Illinois College, and says he will have even more firsthand experience concerning disaster response in law enforcement now that he has led the police department through a global crisis.
Mefford also remains active in IC’s alumni community. He currently serves on the Alumni Board of Directors, a hands-on role that allows him to interact with other alumni.
“I look at the IC alumni across the board and the important positions that they are in today. I think it goes back to the IC slogan of Graduate READY,” he said. “I look at the positions alumni are in, not only in response to the COVID-19 crisis, but the leadership and success that alumi have across the board. It’s a testament to the preparation you receive at IC.”
To learn more about the Illinois College alumni community, visit www.ic.edu/alumni.