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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Beyond the Headlines

I keep hoping that one of these days I will turn on the morning news and see something positive about policing. National events impact many of our citizens here. They want reassurance that our use of force and interaction with those we serve are not what is happening in some areas of the country. They want to know how Duluth officers are different than what they are reading and seeing on the news; specifically, what we are doing to ensure force is used as a last option and that we are treating all citizens fairly, with respect and dignity.       
Rarely does an officer suddenly jump into serious misconduct. There are usually warning signs. When caught early and with proper supervisory involvement, the officer can get on track. Just like we work to prevent crime, we work to prevent misconduct through the use of this system along with good leadership, policies and oversight.

Another major area we focus on is using communication to de-escalate tense situations. Our best officers rarely have to fight with people and are able to gain cooperation through talking. I've heard of one college teaching something called "ask, tell, make." This is terrible way to teach potential police officers and leads to problems that make the news.
Study after study clearly indicates the public wants police officers to use their communication skills to calm situations down. Because I spend time on the street paying attention to this very issue, I know our officers understand the need to communicate to resolve conflict and use force only when necessary.

As chief I also am keenly aware of the need to balance use of force and officer safety. That balance is like walking a tightrope for our officers. I am concerned that an officer or individual could get hurt because of a decision not to take action for fear of discipline. But because of our hiring, training and practices, Duluth officers clearly understand the need to communicate and slow incidents down with the intent of resolving things peacefully.
A lot of concerns in policing boil down to the critical issue of hiring the right people. We look for life experience, character, education, adversity and communication skills as a foundation to hire the best people. Having hired two-thirds of our officers, I can assure you that we have some of the best officers in the country serving this city. Additionally, community members are a critical part of our hiring process and are involved at interviews at all levels.

As the recent past president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, I have again been hearing from chiefs about the difficulties in finding and hiring suitable officer candidates. There was a recent story in the Star Tribune that highlighted the lack of diversity in many urban and suburban police departments in Minnesota. I believe it is time for a change to the Minnesota police licensing system because the current licensing requirements filter out valuable second-career candidates, the poor and people of color. While in the '70s and '80s this system helped improve our education and training requirements, it simply has not kept up with the evolution of policing.

Currently, if someone with a four-year degree in business or social work wants to become a police officer in Minnesota, they will need to go back to school for a year and then put themselves through a full-time academy at their own expense. It is time for a change. I am hopeful that our elected officials see the need for changes to current requirements to help increase the pool of candidates that our communities are seeking.

With 700,000-plus police officers in this country, you are going to have some abuse their authority. But the overwhelming majority of police officers have a service-before-self mentality and want to build healthy, positive relationships with those we serve

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

It Keeps Happening

A few of our staff here at DPD were early adopters and promoters of social media for our department.  Their forward thinking moved us ahead of the game and lead many other departments into the use of social media.  There were the usual internal skeptics of course; I heard the jokes and negative comments, but I think we've turned the tide.  In 2007 we never would have guessed the role social media would play in solving crime. 

It took a while to get the buy in, but now our officers and investigators are now routinely sending our public information officer photos of suspects to have them posted.  The results are amazing.  I just read about another success story this morning.

Social media has become not only a great tool for criminal investigations, but makes me wonder if it has become a crime prevention tool.  And isn't prevention of crime at the very foundation of what police are all about?



Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Open Data

We are seeking to make information more accessible through an open data initiative. Our goal is to build community trust, increase transparency and continue innovation in policing.
When I speak to community groups, I talk a lot about stats other than crime, from miles we drive a year to the average number of complaints we receive or the number of times we used force. People are often very intrigued by the different numbers police departments generate.

We were one of the first agencies in the country to deploy crime mapping, display our crime statistics on the web and successfully use CommunityStat as a way to meet and show neighborhood crime statistics, patterns and efforts to deal with blight. However, the type of data I refer to today will include more up-to-date crime stats and data that is different. While we will also expand the amount of crime-related statistics provided in this initiative, we will display the number of complaints we have had, the number of times various force is used and other information that historically police have not shared.
As you can see, we will continue our efforts to be progressive leaders in policing by providing as much of our activity as publicly as possible.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Limits of Transparency

The police department is one of the most visible and critiqued areas in local government. Transparency and dissemination of timely information to the public is critical in every corner of the policing world. Dealing with data privacy laws, while trying to be transparent and keeping the community informed, is a tough line for police administrators in Minnesota.
One particularly difficult incident occurred a few years ago when I terminated an employee in a use of force case that received a lot of media attention. Due to Minnesota law I was unable to publicly share that I had terminated the employee. Unfortunately, we are forbidden from releasing the employment information until final discipline occurs, which is after the grievance period or arbitration. The only information I could release was previous discipline, employment status and whether it was paid or unpaid. In this case, it was unpaid administrative leave even though the employee had been terminated.

Many in the community asked why I did not terminate the employee and were upset the officer's employment status was "administrative leave." Some believed we were not being transparent and I found myself frustrated that I could not talk more openly about what action had been taken.

The termination eventually became public when the union dropped their grievance, but it was tough from a community relations standpoint to not speak directly to the matter at the time. The fact the employee was terminated 18 months later was no longer news and the fact the employment status remained "unpaid leave" simmered in many communities.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Chief's Update

Since becoming chief in 2006 I have sought and eagerly accepted opportunities to meet with various community organizations to talk and listen about policing.  Since policing is one of the most important functions of government, I believe it is more important than ever that community members hear from me on a number of key topics that I will address this month. 

First, I want to reiterate my commitment to community oriented policing (COP).  Having studied, practiced and taught COP since the early 1990’s I know it works.  The premise of COP is about building relationships with neighbors, businesses and partners with the goal of reducing crime, the fear of crime and improving quality of life. The expectations of police in today’s world extends far beyond simply enforcing laws. We are focusing our efforts on relationships and getting away from looking at our duties as tasks. A key element of community policing is collaboration; that is we will not be successful by ourselves.  Policing a free and democratic society requires citizens to partner with police.  We need your trust, involvement and cooperation. We are only successful when we partner with community members and other entities. 

Having excellent police community relations is a priority for our agency.  While we enjoy strong community support, we still have a lot of work to do. We are continuing to work with communities of color to strengthen trust and work toward reducing disparities.  While I don’t have all of the answers, I can assure you we are committed to collaborating and doing what we can to ensure everyone is treated fairly, with dignity and respect.  We are at a critical time in policing and the only way we are going to successfully move forward is though continuous improvement (there’s always room for improvement).

The second area I wanted express my commitment to is the continued and expanding training on the importance of deescalating situations with the expectation officers will use force as a last resort- and if force must be used, using as little force as necessary.  We have collaborated with many other community partners to establish a crisis intervention training team to help train officers to understand the dynamics of mental illness and gain stronger communication skills to gain compliance versus jumping to the immediate use of force.

It is interesting to note, some police agencies report significant decreases in use of force and complaints after the implementation of body cameras.  In Duluth, we have not seen a decrease in use of force incidents or citizen complaints since we fully implemented cameras; which confirms my belief that our officers have been treating people with respect and using force as a last resort - before body cameras.

We also continue to focus on partnering with residents to reduce crime.  Citizen patrol groups have evolved and are growing. They expanded earlier this year in Lincoln Park and Lakeside/Lester Park to include marked car patrolling.  This has generated a lot of excitement, increased the police community partnership and is making a difference.

Serious crime continues to steadily decline, but we continue to see increased demands for police services.  A drug culture has developed in this country and illegal drug use is higher than it has been in decades. I’d be interested in a study to help determine what percentage of the mental illness issues we are dealing with that are the result of a drug induced psychosis.  Some blame police for the drug issues we are having today, but I would suggest to them that police are one cog in a wheel and expecting police to single handily solve our drug problems is short sighted.  As the old adage goes, “for every complex problem, there is a simple solution and that solution is wrong.”

 We receive regular information about drug dealers and where they operate from. We are grateful for those who provide us with tips and understand often the people reporting drug dealers are neighbors who are fed up with bad behavior and drug trafficking.  Keep in mind, cases take time to build and unlike television shows arrests of drug dealers do not happen within 30 minutes of a report.

We want to be the best we can be.  If you have concerns, questions or comments I’d like to hear from you.  Chief Gordon Ramsay can be reached at or 730-5020

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Increased police calls leads to staffing changes

Increased police calls leads to staffing changes

opinion Duluth,MN 55802 Gordon RamsayDuluth Budgeteer(218) 727-7348customer supporthttp://www.duluthbudgeteehttp://www.duluthbudgeteer.comIncreased police calls leads to staffing chaDuluth MN 424 West First Street 55802 Last week was very busy for the Duluth Police Department as we had some of our busiest days by call volume ever. I was listening to the police radio at my desk Thursday, Aug. 13, and calls were being dispatched nonstop. After hearing calls aired by dispatchers with no available squads, I left my desk and lent a hand on the street.

There were many calls for service waiting to be answered as they were triaged in order of seriousness.
I pulled up police calls that were waiting to be answered on my computer screen and was amazed to see five unrelated attempted suicides and one suicide that squads were dealing with — along with a host of other calls. I don't ever remember seeing six suicide-related calls in a day, never mind six occurring at the same time.

As I continued to look at the long list of calls waiting to be answered, one in particular caught my attention. It was from a local supportive housing unit where a disturbance was occurring in an apartment and staff members were concerned for the welfare of the tenants. I told dispatchers to assign me that call and I responded to the location.
A squad cleared another call and volunteered to go with me. As I was traveling to the call on I-35, I came across debris near the edge of the roadway and many cars pulled off to the side. It appeared there were about three different incidents at this location. I stopped to ensure no one required medical help and that everyone was safe. I heard the Minnesota State Patrol was a short distance away, so after determining immediate assistance was not needed I continued on to the assault call. At that point, the other squad had arrived on scene and I was concerned he was there alone, but I was stuck in slow-and-go traffic and arrived a few minutes later.

When I arrived at the building, the staff members there looked frustrated and said they had been waiting for an extended period of time for us to get there. I apologized for the delay, explained that all squads were tied up, jokingly offered to deputize them and went to the apartment. The officer on scene had things under control and the apartment dweller said he was on the phone with an ex-wife and he became enraged.
The increase in police calls is likely due to a number of variables, including a lack of resources for the mentally ill, our push to report suspicious activities, the proliferation of cellular phones, and people calling the police for issues they never used to call for.

Lastly, a drug culture has taken hold in our country and we are dealing with the effects through noticeable increases in drug-related issues.

In 1993, the Duluth police handled about 135 calls per day that involved a total of about 50,000 incidents. In 2014, that number increased to 276 calls per day that involved more than 100,000 incidents. When I took over as police chief in 2006, if we had 300 calls for service in a day we knew the squads were busy; a busy day for squads now is 350-400 calls.

I am concerned that our response times are delayed due to high-call volume as well as when we don't have a backup officer available for an officer when needed.

A few years ago we reluctantly pulled officers from east and over the hill to help with the increase in call volume in the core areas of the city. While that helped temporarily, a more thorough plan will roll out Jan. 1, 2016 which will change shift lengths and times to ensure we are staffed properly at the busiest times of the day.

Our 2016 staffing plan also includes expanding our community policing efforts from a few to every officer in the patrol division; no longer will community policing be a specialized unit or "that guy's job," but instead every police officer will be engaged in solving problems and building relationships.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Random Thoughts

Policing matters have historically been of significant public interest.  If you look at many of the top television shows over the last several decades shows involving police are often at the top of the charts.  Often times these TV shows influence public opinion.  I vividly recall a police call I was on in 1996 where a mother of a troubled boy yelled at officer Jim Hansen and I that she knew “how you cops are; I watch  TV.”  I often think of that comment and how far from reality it was.   
Strengthening public trust with police is an important element of my job, so I frequently promote the good work our officers do.  Reading about serious and dangerous calls from this weekend make me grateful for the high caliber of officers and supervisors we have at the Duluth PD.  If the anti-police crowd knew the good work done by Duluth officers every minute of every day their paradigm would shift…..