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Monday, May 4, 2015

Policing Today


The world of policing is going through the roughest time in decades, but the profession will evolve, improve and be better than before. It seems so far this year there have been weekly police incidents nationally that capture our attention. It is tough to see the good work every day drowned out by stories of misconduct.

In the aftermath of recent highly visible police incidents, President Obama convened a task force to examine the state of policing and make recommendations to improve police-community relations. The recommendations were released in a report last month. As one of our lieutenants pointed out after reading the report, the Duluth Police Department already does a lot of what is recommended. This week, I will summarize the first pillar of the task force's recommendations and what we're doing in Duluth.



Image result for duluth police


The first focus area of the task force recommendations involve "building trust and legitimacy." Police need to incorporate into their daily activity the tenets of procedural justice, which is defined in the report as "treating people with dignity and respect, giving individuals a voice during encounters, being neutral and transparent in decision-making and conveying trustworthy motives." As I've written here before, we do a lot of work on relationship-building and transparency that no one ever knows about.

In January, I sat down with a group of African-American community leaders who were concerned we were ticketing too many kids of color and creating a "school-to-prison pipeline." We reviewed cases involving tickets issued in schools. A synopsis of each case was presented without names or identifying information. Together, we reviewed every case into December of the school year.

We issue a disproportionate number of tickets to African-American youth and I want to do everything we can to ensure understanding, fairness and transparency. In this meeting the community leaders led me to believe they were in agreement with the majority of the outcomes. My charge to our officers who work in schools is to coach, guide, mentor and use discretion to keep youth out of the criminal justice system to the fullest extent possible.

An obvious area addressed in the report revolves around police use of force. Excessive use of force can undermine the public's trust and officers must be restrained to the extent possible. We need to focus not just on a legal justification, but a moral justification as well. While I don't ever want to see our officers get hurt by using ill-considered tactics, police actions must meet with public acceptance.

We just sent several officers and other community leaders to be trained as trainers — thanks St. Luke's Foundation for their financial support — in crisis intervention. This is one of the more effective programs that trains officers how to work with the mentally ill or people in crisis and to de-escalate situations. We need to continue to focus on talking through tense situations and gaining voluntary cooperation whenever possible.

A group of 20 officers went through this training several years ago and have struggled how to train more staff. With certified trainers now on staff, we hope to have all of our patrol officers trained over the next 12 months.

In Duluth we have focused on the community guardian concept: open dialog, building relationships, creating positive contacts, approachability and community policing. As Plato wrote, "In a republic that honors the core of democracy, the greatest amount of power is given to those called Guardians. Only those with the most impeccable character are chosen to bear the responsibility of protecting the democracy."

Additionally, the report recommends placing department policies online for accessibility, something Duluth police did some time ago. Internal and external surveys are recommended to gauge community trust and needs. We have used surveys extensively. The most recent citizen survey, administered by the International City and County Managers Association from 2014, found 93 percent of the respondents rated contact with Duluth police as excellent, good or fair.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Demands on Police Continue to Grow


Last month, I wrote about the perception of crime versus the reality and how our homicides, robberies, burglaries and car thefts are down from years past. This month I want to acknowledge that while the most visible, serious crimes are down, quality-of-life issues and general demands for police continue to rise.

The number of officers on the street is about the same it was in the 1970s, despite going from about 30,000 cases a year back then to over 100,000 in 2014. When I started here in the mid-90s, there were one or two patrol districts where you could go an entire 12-hour shift with only one or two calls.

Today, that is unheard of. The amount of illegal drugs, chemical abuse, child abuse and neglect, Internet crimes, child pornography, human trafficking, mental illness and residential care facilities is keeping our officers very busy.

Several officers have expressed concern they are getting burned out with the call load and would like more officers on the street. We are currently updating our strategic plan, but it is becoming clear we may have to change some business practices due to the increasing demands on staff.

Police have had additional unfunded burdens place on them through law changes. Prior to 1997, when a convicted sex offender was released, there were no registration or public notification requirements. Today, we know that a certain percentage of sex offenders are likely to reoffend and we are responsible to ensure registration requirements are met, so we now have the equivalent of one and a half officers ensuring sex-offender compliance.

New types of crime have also increased.   In the early and mid-90’s internet crime was unheard of.  Today, we now have an officer assigned to computer crimes and forensics. Sadly, we continue to see increases in the amount of child pornography traded on the Internet. Studies have shown that 70-80 percent of those who look at child porn also abuse children. Currently, we are struggling to keep up with the volume of child pornography cases and not all are investigated.

Human trafficking is an area where, historically, we didn't know the extent of the problem. Since we now realize a high percentage of runaways are targeted and pulled into trafficking, we have an officer designated to investigate runaways and human trafficking cases.  We do more outreach and preventative work in this area than ever. Trafficking cases are very time-intensive because of the sensitivity and dynamics associated with the crime. It can easily take an investigator two years of solid investigative work to bring charges in a case. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to investigate every potential trafficking case, but have allocated staff to investigate as many of these cases as possible.

Special events also continue to thrive in Duluth, which is great for the economy. We will have 53 special events this year that need traffic and crowd coordination; that's 16 more than 2012 and there is the potential for an additional four new events this year. These events are often personnel-intensive and require significant resources to keep attendees safe from traffic or other threats. 9-11 and the Boston marathon bombing, for instance, changed the way police manage large special events ensure everyone's safety.

Our citizens expect that we operate under the community policing philosophy, but it requires additional resources. In the 1990s, President Clinton allocated significant spending to pay for additional police officers. At one point, Duluth had eight federally funded community policing positions. Today, federal funding is a fraction of what it was and we are struggling to fill the positions.

Community policing is more personnel-intensive than the traditional policing model which we operated under until the early '90s. We will continue to seek out grants and funding to help us with our staffing. We know the financial challenges the city faces and are working to find balance in what services we can and cannot continue to provide as part of our strategic planning process.

We have a wonderful cadre of volunteers who help us every day in a variety of ways. We would not be able to do it without them!

I will keep you updated on our strategic planning.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The 2014 numbers are in and unlike our friends in the corporate world, we are not measuring sales numbers, profits and margins. We are measuring crime.

Overall, we are pleased with the 2014 numbers. Keep in mind, we don't have a lot of crime here to begin with. As a result, a few more car thefts, robberies or burglaries can create a noticeable increase.

We frequently see one-person crime sprees that have a serious impact on our yearly totals. When I was in the juvenile bureau, I investigated one 17-year-old who committed at least 70 burglaries and stole 30 cars in a six-month period. That was 17 years ago and since then, he has been convicted of multiple other crimes.

Regardless, crime statistics are one performance measure we utilize heavily. Other performance measurements involve annual surveys, crash data, officer injuries, complaints, use of force and many more. What we measure and track, we benchmark and improve. Our three analysts track trends, criminals, patterns, problem addresses and other variables and disseminate that information to our staff.

Most department members watch and know what's going on and where. We know what is happening, so none of the stats are a surprise to us. We could probably attach names to the various crimes and staff could estimate how many that individual was responsible for. While we know who is committing the crimes, it isn't as easy as it looks on TV to gather enough evidence to prosecute them.
Four crimes we track closely are robberies, burglaries, auto theft and theft from autos, because they have a nexus to many other problems in our community. How about a quick quiz?

In one year there were 1,527 burglaries, the most since the Duluth police began keeping statistics in 1943. What year was it?
A. 2014
B. 2007
C. 1997
D. 1987
E. 1977

The answer is 1977, when there were 1,527 burglaries. Last year we had 504 burglaries, the fewest since 1960, when we had 465 reported. Keep in mind, Duluth has more households now than ever; they are just smaller.

Let's try another. What year had the highest number of auto thefts?
A. 2014
B. 2006
C.1996
D.1986
E.1976

The answer is 1976, with 663 auto thefts. Last year there were 161, the fewest since 1956, with 152.

The bottom line here is that we have hundreds fewer victims because we are reducing crime.
I realize many people don't feel as safe as they used to, which has more to do with decline in our neighborhoods and owner-occupied housing, 24/7 sensationalized crime news reporting and a host of other factors.

Our robberies reached their high from 2005 to 2009 when we didn't have a year with under 100. The last two years we've had 73 and 75, respectively.

We had 27 homicides between 1999 and 2003. From 2010 through today we've had nine. Duluth police officers are working hard to keep our community safe.

So while statistics are one measure of crime, the most important factor for those of us at Duluth Police Department is how safe people in our community feel. We recognize the perception and fear of crime is worse than crime itself.

We will continue to focus on prevention of crime and making people feel safe in our great city.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Social Workers and Police

We have been working with St. Louis County Social Services over the last year to improve our response to those in mental crisis.  Since 2007 our mental illness related calls have risen by more that 35%.  Two of our three homicides last year involved those with serious mental illness and an officer involved shooting involved a subject in crisis threatening with a knife.  Too often we are seeing individuals in suddenly acute mental crisis slip through the cracks and police are left dealing with them as the after hours social workers.  Unfortunately, a result of the lack of resources in this area, mentally ill are often cited or arrested and are brought to the county jail.  With proper treatment and care, these individuals would not be spending time in jail.  As I've said before, our jails are our mental hospitals of the past.       

St. Louis County board members will be considering a proposal next week to fund an embedded social worker to operate in the Duluth police department.  This position will review mental illness related police calls and ensure everything is being done quickly and efficiently to help those in crisis.  They will work hand in hand with our staff to swiftly address those in need of care for their illness. 

I believe this effort will help us reduce incarceration rates of those suffering from mental illness, reduce the amount of court resources involved in mental illness, reduce police time spent on mental illness related calls and help those who are in crisis.

We will continue our efforts related to mental health court, outreach and community intervention group and are excited about the prospects of having an embedded social worker.

Here is story on this effort by channel 21.  http://www.fox21online.com/news/local-news/duluth-police-to-add-social-worker-to-force/31347794

Friday, February 6, 2015

Over the last eight years, members of our department have worked to recruit and build citizen volunteers. Demands on police services continue to climb and our many community volunteers help us with everything from answering phones to traffic control at special events
While I often share stories about the good work our officers do in neighborhoods, I want to highlight two individuals who have had a tremendous impact on policing efforts. Last week, we recognized two of our most active citizen volunteers, Pam Kleinschmidt and Jerry Lawson.

Pam, to whom we fondly refer as the mayor of Lincoln Park, regularly staffs our Lincoln Park office and West Duluth Station, answering phones and assisting with walk-in traffic. She has been instrumental in helping us build relationships with residents and businesses in Lincoln Park. She organizes monthly meetings for citizens and makes sure their concerns are addressed.
Pam goes out of her way at her own expense, taking phone calls from concerned citizens at all hours of the day and night. She spends many hours each week keeping an eye on problem areas in her neighborhood and works with us to develop solutions.

Several years ago, we needed help managing seized cars used to commit crimes. Demands were pulling our staff in many different directions. We needed a mechanic, an accountant and a customer service representative. We were fortunate enough to find a multitalented individual, Jerry Lawson, who was able to fill all those needs. Jerry has been instrumental in the day operation of our vehicle impound lot and we truly could not manage it without him.
There isn't a job Jerry can't do. Additionally, he helped us establish the "Vial of Life" program, which provides medical information to first responders. He also helped expand and improve our citizen patrol program.

I was honored to present Jerry and Pam with Police Chief's Citizen Partnership Awards. I am grateful for all they do for our community and police department.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Initiative To Improve Our Response

I've written about the increase in mental illness related police calls and our efforts to collaborate with our community partners like homeless outreach, social services, public defenders, prosecutors and courts to improve our response.  Through partnering with others, we created a successful community intervention group (CIG) to deal with habitual offenders who often suffer from chemical dependency and mental illness.  These collaborative efforts are paying off with results, but there is still room for improvement.  Police officers are on the front line of helping those with mental illness in our community and we're often involved with complex issues that officers have little or no control over due to lack of available resources and the nature of our system.

Last year, I began talking with others about embedding a social worker in the police department to work closely with our staff and focus on people suffering from mental illness, severe chemical dependency and homelessness that our officers are dealing with daily.  The embedded social worker would  use their knowledge of the social service network, civil court system and appropriate treatment options to improve our response.

We are still in the design phase of this initiative and are searching for a funding stream.  It is my hope to have this effort up and running in the second half of the year. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Policing in 2015

The year 2015 will no doubt bring about continued focus on policing in a democratic society. When the dust settles, I hope we will see the return of federal funding for community policing initiatives.
My first community policing assignment in Duluth was funded through the federal "Weed and Seed" program. It focused on community policing as well as building strong neighborhoods through after-school youth and family programing. I recall when the funding began to dry up and Saturday youth activities were cut.

The very first Saturday after the programming was cut, several of the kids who were regulars at the youth center climbed onto the top of an apartment building and began tearing the roof off and throwing it down below. That sequence of events firmed my belief in the importance of having structured activities for kids, especially in underprivileged neighborhoods.

By 2000, the federal community policing money had almost dried up and was dealt another blow after 9/11. The federal government's focus changed from community policing to homeland security, and that is where the money went.

While the Duluth Police Department maintained its community policing focus, many departments in our country changed their policing philosophy in pursuit of funding, which is one of the reasons some departments are having problems today.

NBC reported the salary of police officers in the St. Louis, Mo., metropolitan area as low, including a wage of $10.50 an hour in the suburb of Hillsdale. How do you expect to get the best, brightest and highly educated workers willing to risk their lives for $10.50 per hour?

Additionally, Ferguson relies heavily on traffic fines to help balance their budget. Their revenue from court fines and forfeitures has tripled in the last 10 years, according to the online news outlet Quartz. This leads me to believe they were focused more on revenue generation than building relationships.
Community policing is more expensive than the traditional model of policing as it requires more staff. Unfortunately, the demands of police continue to grow. We have seen computer crimes rise as well as crimes against the vulnerable. Human trafficking is of growing concern. We log over 100,000 incidents a year, compared to 30,000 in the 1980s. I look at the political turmoil many communities face regarding their police departments and am thankful for the tremendous support given to our police department by Mayor Ness, City Council and citizens.