In Focus
History, Politics & Justice

A Voice for the Victim

By Jill Fishbaugh

Marion Police Lt. Scott Elam ’16 MA demonstrates Mercy compassion.

When people call the police department, it’s probably the worst moment of their life,” says Marion Police Lt. Scott Elam ’16 MA. But when they get Elam working on their case, they get an advocate, a voice for the victim.

“I try to calm people down,” Elam says, “and tell them everything is going to be alright. Sometimes, that’s all they need to hear—that voice that says, ‘You’re going to be okay.’”

Although his positions have changed over the years from working as a parole and patrol officer to a police detective, Elam has made criminal justice his career.

“I like the idea of helping people,” he says.

As the officer in charge of the Investigations Division, Elam says he doesn’t know exactly what he’ll be doing every day. Not too long ago, he wound up working a murder case.

“Marion doesn’t have a lot of homicides,” he says, “But it’s satisfying to be the voice for the victim, to be sure someone is held accountable, and see justice in the end.”

Applying Mount Mercy Education

When visiting MMU with his daughter, Lindsey Sabelka ’16 MA, who was interested in pursuing graduate studies in criminal justice, Elam discovered he was just as interested in the class offerings as she was.

“When she said, ‘Dad, you should do this with me,’ I couldn’t help but agree,” he says.

Elam and Sabelka took classes and worked on projects together while earning their master’s degrees.

“My dad gives 100 percent in the work that he does,” says Sabelka, now a probation/parole officer with the Iowa Department of Correctional Services. “He’s a good dad, a great role model, and it was rewarding to be able to see each other’s perspectives through our schoolwork together.”

Elam says coursework focused on research-backed efforts to reduce crime and how to do more with less really helped him out.

“As a result of my master’s degree, I learned how to be smart about policing by using proven, evidence-based methods,” he says. These methods are being put into practice with a police mapping project that places officers on patrol in the areas where problems are more likely to occur rather than just at random as was standard practice in the past. “Using data helps us be more effective.”

Marion Chief of Police Joseph McHale, also a proponent of evidence-based policing, recently instituted Operation Clean Sweep, a social network analysis effort where all Linn County law enforcement agencies and several federal agencies combine records to identify high-risk offenders and the people they are connected with. Elam coordinated the “boots on the ground” by serving as the liaison between the officers and the agencies.

Elam says arresting people that commit crimes is a tool to be used by law enforcement, but it cannot be law enforcement’s only response to community problems.

“We let the high-risk offenders and their contacts know we are cracking down, and they are being watched,” Elam says. “We also let them know we want to keep them safe and help them stay alive as well as encourage them to get out of the social groups causing problems. We provide information on resources available to prevent them from returning to criminal behavior.”

“As a result of my master’s degree, I learned how to be smart about policing by using proven, evidence-based methods,” Scott Elam ’16 MA says.

The first operation was a success. Of the 71 people identified as high-risk offenders, 24 were found and an additional 11 people with outstanding warrants were arrested. Twenty-eight collateral contacts also received information regarding services and resources.

Applying Mount Mercy Compassion

Marion Police Deputy Chief Doug Slagle says Elam is always willing to serve those less fortunate, taking it upon himself to provide regular updates to families of homicide victims who may not have the ability or know about the resources available to them.

“He is not only a concerned police officer,” Slagle says, “He is also a compassionate liaison representing the victims. He gives them a voice and an explanation of the justice system.”

Slagle says Elam is an asset to the agency and the community as a leader and a mentor.

“Lt. Elam is a person first and a police officer second,” Slagle says. “He’s what America needs more of.” ■