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'There will always be challenges:' Macomb's first Black police chief reflects on his first year

Police Chief Jerel Jones in his office in downtown Macomb.
Rich Egger
Police Chief Jerel Jones in his office in downtown Macomb.

Chief Jerel Jones has been on the job for nearly a full year. He said it has been a busy year full of challenges.

“One of the challenges has involved navigating a new police department. I’m an outside hire,” Jones said. “It’s not the same as coming up through the ranks and knowing the various ins and outs of the department.”

Jones replaced Curt Barker, who served in the department for 27 years, the final dozen as chief.

Jones came over from the McDonough County Sheriff’s Department, where he was a lieutenant. He earlier worked for the campus police departments at Western Illinois University and Bradley University.

He served as Transitional Police Chief in Macomb beginning March 1 of last year and was sworn in as chief at the beginning of May.

All told, he had 15 years of police experience before he took charge of Macomb’s department.


Jones is Macomb’s first Black police chief. He said he is mindful of being in that chair and leading an entirely white department in a rural, largely white community.

“I believe that the men and women of this department have their confidence in me. They’ve been supportive. I believe the community has been supportive as a majority,” Jones said.

“But I do know that as an African American male, as an African American law enforcement leader, there will always be challenges just based on how I look.”

Jones believes he’s making strides toward diversifying the department. He said he has done a good job hiring more women but would like to hire more people of color too. He cautioned that change won’t come overnight.

“We’re selling a product of a smaller police department in a rural setting. We’re also selling a product of Macomb,” Jones said. “We have to be able to get people to want to live here and invest in this community and want to stay here.”

He added the department must attract candidates who can pass its police test and pass a background check.

“There are a lot of layers and components to becoming a police officer. We have to make sure we’re finding the best fit for the job,” Jones said.

He believes the community is becoming more accepting of diversity, though he said it remains a work in progress.

Looking back and looking ahead

Jones said the department transitioned from eight hour shifts to 12 hours shifts under his leadership, which led to changes to the organizational structure.

“It’s a challenge moving the pieces around on the board to where it will be designed to be most effective for the department and for the community,” he said.

He also said he continues working to make the department more transparent and community oriented.

“I came in with those things at the top of my list of goals, to be more involved with building community relationships, building relationships not just between myself as the chief and the community members but also with the officers being able to go out and engage more in the public,” Jones said.

The chief said the department’s calls for service increased in the past year and that no two days are the same when you work in law enforcement.

He said he’s learning more every day.

“I’ve been tasked with making sound, wise, and wholesome decisions. Every decision I have made over the past 12 months has not been the absolute right decision but I’ve been able to learn out of those couple of moves and decisions that might have needed some tweaking,” he said.

“I’ve been able to bounce back and work with my team to make better decisions.”

He said the past year has not been perfect but he believes the department is making progress and building more relationships with the community.

Jones also said he is looking forward to the department earning reaccreditation. He said Lt. Jeff Hamer is in charge of that process.

Listen to the audio link at the top of this story for more from the interview.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.