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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Increased police calls leads to staffing changes


Increased police calls leads to staffing changes


opinion Duluth,MN 55802 http://www.duluthbudgeteer.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/field/image/Gordon%20Ramsay-web_9.jpg?itok=myku3_4J 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…..

Monday, July 6, 2015

News Tribune Editorial

It seems the intense media coverage of a few national police incidents is negatively skewing perceptions of our police.  Here is an editorial Mike Tusken and I wrote that was published in the July 5 DNT.


Police View

 

Police officers today are working in one of the toughest times in our profession’s history. We are facing more scrutiny than in decades past despite the fact officers at the Duluth Police Department and many others are better trained, more educated, and working harder to create positive relationships than ever before. There’s been a clear disconnect created by the narrative driven by national and social media that has created a negative climate for our police officers. This narrative has overshadowed the countless times every day when our officers are helping people and solving crimes.

Police officers are standard-issue human beings but are expected to act beyond human and handle every situation with perfection as defined by many. Police officers take an oath to protect and serve: They will search for your lost children, protect you when a relationship isn’t safe or come to your house when there is a bump in the night. They also will break up a fight, chase down a robber, or search a business knowing the bad guy is hiding. We get asked, “How do you do it? Aren’t you scared?” Police are not immune from fears but will always come to your aid despite them.  

When asked by the News Tribune Opinion page if we were interested in writing a commentary on this topic, we had just been briefed and were following a priority call in eastern Duluth where a despondent male had overdosed on medication and was threatening to shoot at police officers. Thanks to the great work by our officers, that incident was resolved in a couple of hours without anyone being hurt, and the suicidal male was taken to the hospital without any injuries. Situations like this happen here daily.

Unfortunately, the narrative we are hearing and seeing on the national news is far from this. In some cases all police officers are being painted with a broad brush as the out-of-control racists of our cities. National stories have skewed public perceptions of police, and it is being felt by our officers. We’re not offering an excuse, nor are we defending the national incidents. Instead, we just want to bring balance and reality back into the discussion. There is no other profession that can be brought down as quickly as police can by the actions of a relative few.

There are almost 900,000 police officers working in our country, and, according to the FBI, there are an average of 58,930 assaults on police and 149 police officer deaths per year. Additionally, police work can shorten your lifespan. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health found that the potential loss of life for police officers is 21 times greater than for the general population.

We in the Duluth department have a staff of dedicated officers who leave their homes and families every day fully aware of the inherent risks of policing with a primary focus of helping people and improving the community’s quality of life. These officers are good people with good character, motives, and intentions who sometimes deal with dynamic and instantly evolving violent encounters. These encounters happen in a split second but will be etched in their memories for a lifetime.

Error in judgment is inevitable despite the best training, policies, and supervision. The results of these errors can be incredibly tragic and can create great angst among the community. Unfortunately, many times, conversation shifts from human error to the allegedly willful intent to harm or oppress. The narrative often is shaped on sound bites that don’t tell the whole story.  

Given the current national climate surrounding law enforcement, police officers are feeling down, and they need your support. As we move forward, remember the good work that is done every minute of every day by our police officers, and don’t judge all by the actions of a relative few.

 

Gordon Ramsay is chief of the Duluth Police Department and Mike Tusken is a deputy chief. They wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Policing Recommendations


Last month I wrote about the President's Task Force on Policing in the 21st Century, released this spring, and its first group of recommendations, on the need for police to build trust and legitimacy in their communities. I was pleased to know Duluth Police Department is already doing almost all of the recommendations, in many cases for decades.

This month I'm writing on the second set of recommendations, "Policy and Oversight." Again, the Duluth PD is already doing almost all of them.

Recommendation 2.1 encourages police "to collaborate with communities and strategies in communities disproportionately affected by crime for deploying resources that aim to reduce crime by improving relationships, greater community engagement and cooperation." In Duluth this is evident by strong community police efforts. Having done this in Central Hillside in the '90s, I can attest to the importance of building relationships with those you serve.

I've written a lot about how we collaborated with community members and criminal justice partners to be open and transparent. We are determined to do what we can so that citizens have faith in our department.

Part 2 of the task force report also encourages departments to have external and independent investigations in police shootings, in-custody deaths and use of force resulting in death. Again, Duluth PD protocol matches the recommendations. There are some police chiefs who are adamantly opposed to outside investigations. Their reasoning is usually driven by expertise, ego or resources.

Civilian oversight of some form is recommended. For almost seven years now, retired Deputy Chief John Beyer and I worked with community members to establish a civilian review board (CRB). Our efforts were praised by two national experts in civilian oversight of police because we worked proactively to build what would work for Duluth, at a time that was absent from any controversy. The idea of a CRB concerned a lot of our police officers, but Duluth's was designed as an advisory body to foster trust and communication with those we serve.

While the task force report is a good reminder and framework for policing in today's world, I am surprised at the lack of focus on education. If policing is to improve, education requirements must increase. With one exception, all officers in our department have associate degrees. About 65-70 percent have a bachelor's degree or greater. Many departments across the country only require a high school diploma. New Orleans recently reduced their educational requirement from two years of college to a high school diploma.

Like the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. The task force report does not properly address compensation for police officers. If you want college education and the best and the brightest serving as police officers, they must be paid appropriately. Too many places, such as Ferguson, MO are paying $13 an hour. Are we going to get the best and brightest police officers at that wage?  I think not.

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.