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Saturday, April 12, 2014

More on Mental Illness and Policing

Police continue to be the first responders on mental illness issues in our community. They are on the front line. Unfortunately our criminal justice system is too often the place where those suffering from mental illness end up. Our jails are becoming the institutions that the state hospitals used to be. I am amazed at the increase in mental illness-related police calls when I am working the street.
The cuts to state and federal mental illness treatment over the last 30 years are astronomical. Often local government and nonprofits are left to absorb the problems. Police officers are the mental health workers of today. I am concerned any time an officer is sent to a mental illness call instead of a psychologist or mental health worker. The current state requirements for police officer training do not contain any mental illness education.

As I follow this issue nationally, I often read about unfortunate incidents involving police while dealing with a mentally ill individual. There are often two elements associated with the contact that involves lack of training and mental health resources in the community. Recently we found an opportunity to prepare several of our officers as trainers in a national model for police response to people in crisis. In turn, these officers will train our entire department on crisis intervention. This project will be done with our community partners with probation, social services, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and other service providers in Duluth.  While we have had a select group of officers trained in crisis intervention, this opportunity will allow us to train our entire department.

We also have a very strong collaborative effort between local judges, prosecutors, public defenders, street outreach, police, probation and social services that works to help chronic, mentally ill offenders. This program receives no funding and is the product of dedicated public servants that see the importance of the issue in our community. We are always looking for funding opportunities to improve our crisis response.

We are fortunate to have caring and compassionate police and service providers in our community who make a positive impact for those suffering from this illness and their loved ones.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mental Illness and Policing

Since the early 1990s we have seen increases each year in the number of mental illness calls we respond to. But there is little to no federal and state funding for hospital stays, training for our officers, and everything in between.

State mandates for training police officers has not kept up with the times, and our new officers receive literally no training after college on dealing with the mentally ill. I now know that many of the strategies I used when dealing with the mentally ill were not the best.

We were grateful to receive funding, through the Miller Dwan Foundation a few years ago, to train about 20 officers on the best practices for dealing with mental illness; however, we need to train more, and the money for training is simply not there.

We will continue to look for sources of funding for training; however, this is only part of this complicated issue that has been pushed to the local level. We will continue to work with our local mental health providers and the National Alliance on Mental Illness to ensure we are keeping up with national best practices and standards.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

License Plate Reader

The legislative session is off to a quick start this year, and there are a few issues we are watching.
Because of some recent national cases, there has been growing concern about government accessing citizens’ data. In some cases, legislation has not kept up with emerging technology.

One issue that I am watching closely relates to automatic license plate readers (LPR), which we have been using for several years now. The value of LPRs in investigating crime is incredible. It has helped police around the country solve homicides, shootings, rapes and other serious crimes, in addition to flagging stolen or wanted cars and people. Locally, it helped us put pieces together in a kidnapping case, among other major cases.

A concern expressed by some privacy advocates is that the LPR data, which includes the time and location of the plate when it was read, could be used for nefarious or unethical reasons. Because of these concerns, the Duluth police department and many other departments have developed strict policies that address retention time, data retrieval requirements and strict tracking.

Unfortunately, a couple of departments do not have any guidelines on the use of LPRs. As a result, there are legislators who want to have LPR data erased immediately after the plate is read, with concern about its misuse as the main reason.

I firmly believe if legislators were to adopt laws similar to our policy, any concerns about misusing LPR data will be addressed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Garage Burglars

Let’s hope spring truly arrives this month. Crooks have found that many garage doors are not shutting properly due to all the snow and extreme cold, and as a result we have seen an increase in garage burglaries.  Our burglaries have been down the last few years, and we’d like to continue that trend. It can be accomplished with your help by ensuring your doors are secured and locked.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Hiring at DPD

Nine new police officers were sworn in last week and we are already preparing for our next hiring process which will begin in about four months.  I am often asked about our hiring process; what do you look for in a potential officer?  How do you weed out candidates who are not suitable?  Well, our hiring process is extensive and begins 12 months before the chosen few hit the streets on solo patrol.  We begin with an application process and those qualified are allowed to continue on to take a written test.  Minnesota law requires you must meet certain educational requirements to be eligible to become a police officer  (Of the nine officers that hit the streets last week, eight had a bachelor’s degree).  If you meet the minimum requirements to become a licensed police officer in Minnesota you are allowed to take our test.  Last year we received over 300 applicants and about 280 were qualified to test.   The tests are scored and ranked.  Those scoring the highest are moved onto an interview with department and community members. 

The first interview is scored and those receiving the highest scores undergo an extensive background investigation.  Credit scores are examined to ensure there are no red flags in this area.  Past and present neighbors, employers and co-workers are visited and questioned about the candidate.   Additionally, friends and ex-boy/girl friends are interviewed to determine character and uncover any concerns.   We dig and dig  - looking for what kind of candidate we have.  After the background is completed and there are no concerns the candidate is allowed to continue onto a background interview and an interview with me.  The background interview consists of an in depth questioning of the candidates background.  Any areas of the candidate’s background that have the slightest of concern are further addressed at this time.  Parallel to the background panel interview, I, along with other department members, interview the candidate.  

Our ideal candidate is someone who has life experience.  I began as a police officer at the age of 20, which, in retrospect, I think I was too young for me to deal with the complicated issues many police must deal with.  I would like to take back some of the decisions that I made early in my career when dealing with people; most of which revolved around lack of life experience and maturity.  I would really like to see more second career candidates to choose from.  We have had great luck with a couple of engineers who decided in their 30’s they were interested in police work and decided to change careers. 

In addition to life experience, I want to hire individuals who treat people well and have strong communication skills; someone who can go into a tense situation and use their interpersonal skills to resolve a situation calmly without escalating matters.  Many of our officers could make a lot more money in sales, because they can talk their way in and out of all kinds of bad, sad and terrible situations that police officers face on a daily basis.

Past work habits are telling.  After talking to past supervisors and co-workers, we are almost always able to discover concerns.  Our officers must have a strong work ethic because so much is demanded of them.  With our performance measures, there is no getting around that there is no down time when you are a police officer.  We expect when an officer is not handling or investigating an incident, that they will be working on neighborhood issues, patrolling hot spots or getting to know people and businesses in their beat.

Along with strong character and integrity, one of the best attributes I like to see in potential police officers is helpfulness.  Do they have a track record of being helpful?  The best police officers are most often helpful in nature.  They often look at a situation not from the stand point of being a police officer, but from a public servant’s perspective with the concept of simply being as helpful as possible.

Once we decide on our best candidates, the top group goes through extensive psychological testing.  This portion of testing measures aptitude for police work, ability to work in stressful situations, ability to handle stress, I.Q., honesty, behavioral traits, work ethic, ability to work with diverse communities and any abnormalities.  When the psychological testing is complete a team of department members meet with the psychologists to discuss each of the candidates and determine if they are still suitable candidates.  Those who successfully pass this portion go on for physical testing and potential job offer.

Those candidates who are hired go through an extensive 11 week academy and then a grueling five months of field training where they receive more training before they transition into handling all calls by themselves.  If they successfully pass this portion they are retained and certified for solo patrol. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Nine new officers finished the academy last week and began their field training this week.  Eight of the nine have at least a bachelor's degree and they all come with interesting and diverse backgrounds.  Here is a little about each one..

Tyler Bodin grew up in Carlton. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from UMD where he studied Criminology and graduated with a 3.7 GPA. He completed his law enforcement portion at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in 2013. Tyler was a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Carlton for 4 years. He is the first in his family to work in law enforcement. Tyler chose to become a police officer because of his passion for helping others. In his free time he enjoys fishing, hunting, and being outdoors. Tyler would like to thank his Uncle Scott, Aunt Laura, and his girlfriend, Brittany as well as his entire family and friends for their support.    
Sean Fraser grew up in Frazee, MN.  He completed his law enforcement training in Alexandria.  He worked as  a patrol officer for Hibbing Police Department for 6 ½ years prior to being hired with Duluth.  He is the first in his family to work in law enforcement.  He enjoys spending time with his wife Lindsey, his sprainger spaniel Ruger, his family and his friends.  Sean enjoys hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling.  He would like to thank his parents, family and friends for their continued support of his carreer.  

Dan Kerfeld grew up in Duluth.  He graduated from UMD where he studied criminology and psychology. He completed his law enforcement portion at Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College in 2010.  He has been involved with the Duluth Police Reserves for the last 4 years.  He is excited for the opportunity to work for the city of Duluth.  Dan enjoys spending time with friends and family, playing with his dogs and being outside.  He would like to thank his wife, parents, family and friends for all their support. 

Pat McCormick was raised in Faribault. Pat knew as a young boy that he wanted to do one of three things when he grew up. Join the military, become a police officer, or become a firefighter. Following graduation from high school Pat enlisted into the Marine Corps and served four and a half years.  He was deployed to Iraq 3 times from 2004-2008 and was awarded the purple heart after being injured by shrapnel.  He then attended school for firefighting and became a wild land firefighter. Discovering firefighting wasn’t for him he went back to school for law enforcement. He attended Mankato State University where he received his bachelors in law enforcement. He completed his skills program through Hibbing Community College the summer of 2013.  Pat enjoys camping, shooting, hunting, fishing, and pretty much any other outdoors activity. He would like to thank everyone who has come to support him today, his parents, family, friends, teachers, and mentors all of which have helped him to be standing up here today. He would also like everyone to know that he is soon to be an uncle!  

Jacob Moldenhauer grew up in Houston, MN. He attended Winona State University where he studied Law Enforcement and graduated with his Bachelor’s Degree. He completed his skills portion at Rochester Community Technical College in 2013. Jacob worked for the State Prison in Faribault, MN for a year and a half prior to being hired by Duluth. He is the first in his family to work in law enforcement. Jacob enjoys running with his dog Dallas, mountain biking, and hanging out with family and friends. He would like to thank his father Steve, mother Arlene, and his brother Ryan for all their support.

Mike Renier grew up in Duluth. He went to Duluth East high school where he played hockey for the Greyhounds. He attended UMD where he studied criminology and sociology and completed his bachelor’s degree. He also completed his associate’s degree in law enforcement at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in 2012. Mike continues to play hockey as much as possible and coaches for the Duluth East JV and varsity teams. He loves the Duluth area and is excited to be working for the community he grew up in. Mike’s dad, Dean, was a police officer for Duluth PD for many years and that’s how his interest in law enforcement was found.  Mike would like to thank his father Dean, mother Amy, brother Luke, and his friends for their support.

 Nick Stauber grew up in Duluth.  He attended the College of St. Scholastica where he studied history, graduating summa cum laude with a 3.95 GPA.   He went back to school at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in 2011 for his degree in law enforcement, and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.  Nick had an interest in law enforcement from an early age, and after riding along with several Duluth officers and seeing first hand the importance of professional police work in a community, decided to make that interest into a career.  Nick enjoys hiking, playing guitar, and spending time with family and friends.  He would like to thank his father Rick, his mother Belinda, his stepfather Todd, and retired Sergeant Dave Greeman. 

 Dan Thorstensen grew up in Hermantown.  He studied law enforcement at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College and graduated in 2008, and went on to study criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin Superior and graduated in 2013.  Since he was very young, Dan has been impressed and intrigued by the field of law enforcement and he is the first in his family to become a Police Officer.  Dan loves the Duluth area because of the many year-round outdoor activities that are available, especially fishing and hiking.  Dan would like to thank his parents James and Debra along with his sisters and extended family for their support and encouragement. 

Jeff Webster grew up in Maple Grove, MN. He attended UMD where he studied criminology and geographical information systems. He completed his law enforcement portion at Alexandria Tribal and Community College in the summer of 2013. His passion for law enforcement came to him when he was a kid but decided he would make it his career at the end of his senior year in high school. In the fall of his senior year at UMD, Jeff became an intern with Duluth Police and that is when he realized that he wanted to pursue a career with this department.  He enjoys mountain biking, watersports, snowmobiling and traveling with friends and family. He would like to thank his parents Mike and Kathy as well as his sister Abby and many other friends and family for their continued support throughout his journey.

Monday, January 20, 2014


2013 ended on a busy note as we are finishing up year-end reporting and updating our policy manual.   I also was able to throw in a couple of night shift patrols and enjoyed getting out on the street as much as I ever have.  It is always reassuring to me to watch how our officers handle themselves on the calls they respond to.

I went on many calls where I watched officers display incredible patience and compassion to individuals who’d worn out their welcome with everyone else.  Officers managed to resolve tough, tense situations throughout the night by talking to those involved and resolving problems without using any force.  There was one incident in particular where a fight had taken place with many intoxicated people requiring one of them to be checked at the emergency room as he had been hit in the head with a blunt object.  The officer who drove him to the hospital had requested assistance as the man had become very agitated and was refusing to get out of the squad car at the hospital.  When I arrived there were already three officers there and they were using their verbal skills to deescalate the situation.   Once again, I was amazed at the patience and kindness displayed by the officers as they were being verbally threatened and called every name in the book.  

When we are in the final interview with police officer candidates, I always ask myself, “would I want this person to show up at a time of need for me, family member or friend?”  I can confidently say every officer I recently worked with fits that bill.

Lastly, I wanted to share my vision for Duluth P.D. in 2014 which is for successful crime prevention and reduction while increasing citizens' sense of safety through greater visibility and good relations.   

My best to you in 2014!