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Winfield alderman is now police chief

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri), FIRST EDITION, NEWS; Pg. A2
BYLINE: Joel Currier o , 636-255-7210

Winfield, MO

Former chief's suspension after arrest of officer leaves town short-staffed.

WINFIELD - Almost by accident, Larry Cudney suddenly became the most powerful man in this river town of about 1,400.

He's Winfield's acting mayor, appointed after voters elected an incumbent who died shortly before last year's election. He's also a third-term alderman, so he holds two votes - his and a tiebreaker - on the city board.

And this week, he became acting police chief when aldermen suspended Chief Jim Johnson without pay after the drug arrest of one of Winfield's five police officers.

"I'm hoping we can get this all straightened out," Cudney said Wednesday.

Today, investigators with the Missouri Highway Patrol are expected to begin auditing Winfield police policies and its evidence room after Officer Bud A. Chrum, 39, of Troy, Mo., was charged with attempting to buy two bags of cocaine worth $160.

Chrum told police he was trying to replace damaged evidence "because I spilled something on about two grams of cocaine." He said he feared he'd be fired if he didn't replace it. He was jailed Wednesday in Lincoln County on a $25,000 cash-only bail. His brother, Tony Chrum, 38, of Troy, also was arrested on suspicion of trying to buy cocaine from a police informer.

Lincoln County Prosecutor John Richards said Wednesday that he would dismiss any criminal cases Bud Chrum had investigated. Chrum joined the Winfield police force in December after a 10-month stint with the Wright City Police Department. Before that, he was on the Curryville, Mo., Police Department in Pike County. Johnson fired Chrum on Saturday, the day after he was arrested. Chrum earned $31,137 a year.

On Tuesday night, Winfield officials suspended Johnson, a former Lincoln County sheriff, and will hold a closed meeting Tuesday to decide his fate.

"When things go sour, you've got to look at the man up top," said Cudney, who doesn't think Johnson was in any way linked to the criminal case against Chrum but added, "Maybe there were some rules that should have been followed that weren't."

Johnson said Wednesday that he had nothing to do with the allegations against Chrum and that he understood that his suspension followed city policies.

"I got to take life as it comes," Johnson said.

His suspension means Winfield has just two full-time officers and one reserve officer. The Lincoln County Sheriff's Department and state troopers are helping patrol the town.

"They may be short-staffed, but I'm sure they will survive," Johnson said.

Officials said Johnson started as chief in December 2007 and earned $42,000 a year. Cudney, 65, a heavy equipment operator for the city of St. Peters, has no police experience.

"I'm going to ensure this department is run correctly," Cudney said.

Winfield resident Verna Running, 66, said Chrum's actions were embarrassing.

"It's sad," Running said. "It's hard enough to teach kids right from wrong, but what kind of example is that?"

Sid Ritchie, 63, a Winfield coffee shop owner, said he wasn't worried about the drop in police patrol as long as Lincoln County sheriff's deputies provided coverage.

"I don't think we'll have any problems," Ritchie said.

Others couldn't understand why the city had suspended Johnson.

"I'm dumbfounded," said Lisa Irwin, a server at a pizza place in downtown Winfield. "Everybody around here loves him. Jim is a 100 percent up front, honest individual. I'd trust him with anything."

Tom Martin, 63, of Winfield, thinks suspending Johnson was the wrong decision.

"I think it's wrong because the officer working for him got caught. They should go on and let him have his job back."

Reporter Susan Weich contributed to this report.

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