Crime & Courts

Bobby Stout: A life of stopping crime

When he was growing up in Russellville, Ala., Bobby Stout didn't plan a career in public service. "I didn't grow up waving at firefighters or wanting to be a police officer," he said.

The Navy brought Stout to Kansas in the early 1950s. A classified ad led him to apply for a job at the Wichita Police Department.

When he retires this summer, Stout will take with him more than a half-century of law enforcement experience — 23 years with the Police Department and 30 as director of the Wichita Crime Commission.

"The bug bit me," he said of police work. "You never recover. You wake up one day and you've done it all of your adult life. I'm not the least bit sorry I did it."

Joe Self, president of the Crime Commission's board of directors, described Stout as "a strong director, very identifiable in the community, a big voice for Crime Stoppers.

"And he's just been consistent. He's a very good man."

During his police career, Stout rose to the rank of deputy chief, largely because of his work in the vice section.

At the Crime Commission, he has been the point man for the group's annual awards dinner and its annual conference on gangs and drugs, which offers inexpensive training for hundreds of area law enforcement officers.

Crime Stoppers

To the public, Stout is best known as the face of Wichita/Sedgwick County Crime Stoppers — a program he helped found in 1980 and nurture in its early years.

Crime Stoppers today is a proven criminal justice tool that is mentioned in most stories where police ask for the public's help in solving a crime.

Stout said the program struggled in its early years, largely because detectives were leery of having their cases featured in the program's Crime of the Week.

That changed after May 3, 1983, the day 26-year-old Julie Rosenhamer was shot to death during a robbery at the Church's Fried Chicken restaurant at 1302 N. Broadway.

"This was the first big case we ever featured on Crime Stoppers," Stout said. "It was the case that made Crime Stoppers."

In those days, Stout said, the program's Crime of the Week was featured in a re-enactment that appeared on a Sunday night television news show.

When Church's refused to take part in a re-enactment, Stout said, a camera crew set up on public property and taped the segment anyway, with the restaurant in the background. The spot ran in its usual Sunday night time slot.

"In less than an hour, we had the names of the two people who had robbed the store and committed the homicide," Stout said.

"After that, detectives began to see that this was a program that could work."

The two suspects, Yvonne Pink and Regina Baldwin, were convicted of murder and are serving life sentences at the Topeka Correctional Facility.

Although Crime Stoppers no longer films re-enactments, it continues to offer rewards of up to $1,000 for information that solves the Crime of the Week.

More importantly, Stout said, the program serves as a handy outlet for people who want to forward information to police anonymously.

"They can get involved without getting involved," he said.

The Crime Commission

Stout said the Wichita Crime Commission was organized in the early 1950s at a time when independent citizen groups were being formed around the country to prevent the entrenchment of organized crime.

"We've had a lot of disorganized crime, but I don't know that we ever had organized crime in Wichita," Stout said.

Over the years, the Crime Commission grew into an independent agency that works for the betterment of law enforcement.

When Wichita police wanted to start a mounted patrol unit, Stout said, the Crime Commission stepped forward and helped with the financing. He said the group is a regular sponsor of the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Law Camp at Lake Afton.

The commission's Make Good Choices program exposes at-risk children to the realities of prison life. Its Youth Court program is designed to show students what happens in American courtrooms.

In June, the commission will hold its 16th annual Midwest Law Enforcement conference on Gangs and Drugs. Scheduled topics include fighting crime through social networking and using federal organized-crime laws to charge and prosecute street gangs and others.

A changing landscape

Stout said law enforcement today is nothing like it was on Aug. 16, 1957, when he started earning $314 a month as a rookie. Officers in those days worked six-day, 48-hour weeks.

"The atmosphere was just entirely different," he said. "We didn't wear bulletproof vests. The biggest problem was private clubs."

That doesn't mean the era was void of shocking crimes. Stout was a captain in investigations when police arrested a man who committed six murders over a five-day period in April 1970.

After killing two women in Wichita, Frank Swinney drove to Indianapolis, where he shot and killed a former Wichitan. He killed three other people in Indianapolis, including a 14-year-old girl, before setting their rooming house on fire.

"He explained to us how he killed six people like you would tell me you saw a good movie," Stout said.

"He said the only one who didn't need killing was the little girl. She was just in the wrong place wrong time."

Swinney died in prison in December 2008.

Self said those who want to apply for the Crime Commission director's job are being asked not to send their resumes to the commission, where they might be seen by outside law enforcement sources.

He asked that resumes instead be sent to Crime Commission board member Steve Robison at his law firm — Fleesing, Gooing, Coulson & Kitch, Box 997, Wichita, KS, 67201.

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