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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.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Year's Eve

I hopped in a squad car on New Year's Eve — as I have done for a number of years now — because I like to see what is going on in our city. I like watching our officers in action. That night I saw them consistently treating people with dignity, respect and compassion. They were helping victims, the vulnerable and those in need. They acted as guardians and protectors of our community and I am proud of their work.
The first few hours of the night were fairly typical for a night shift. A drunken driver drove off Central Entrance and into a wooded area before 9 p.m. A jealous ex-boyfriend called in a false report of the new boyfriend carrying a gun.
My last call of the night was a domestic fight call that began just before midnight. This deeply disturbing incident involved verbal, physical and likely sexual abuse of children. The evening had gone from a fairly fun time to that of the somber reality some kids in our community live with. This case was particularly bothersome because some adults were told of the potential abuse and chose to do nothing. The kids involved were sweet and innocent.
The next morning, I was still deeply bothered by the case. It was a reminder of the difficult situations our officers face on a daily basis. While I know social workers are now involved, I still wonder how the kids are doing and hope they are getting the help and resources they need to move on and be as healthy as they can be.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Policing Strategies Related to Witness Intimidation

Our staff is constantly striving to be the best we can be.  We have been part of a collaborative effort to improve our response to witness intimidation related to domestic violence.   Here is a link to an article on the effort

Duluth PD continues to be a leader in policing......

Friday, December 12, 2014

Current Events in Policing

Police everywhere are in the spotlight now due to recent controversial events. For the last few weeks I haven't been able to turn on the national news without hearing about police use of force somewhere in the nation. This has caused me to think about incidents I was involved with during my career.

One took place on a September morning 16 years ago. While on duty I drove by a gas station and saw a male wearing a ski mask walk inside, carrying a duffle bag. The temperature was in the 60s, so there was no need to be wearing a ski mask.

I pulled into the gas station lot, went inside, approached him, patted him down for weapons and asked for ID. Immediately I sensed there was going to be a problem. The male seemed like he was under the influence of a chemical or suffering from mental illness.

Not wanting to disturb the small store's business, I asked him to come outside with me. He reluctantly agreed. As we were walking out, I noticed a large butcher knife protruding from a cut in his duffle bag. I told him to give me the duffle bag and he refused. I tried to take the bag away — and the fight was on.

We fell to the ground and rolled around next to the gas pump. After a few seconds I was able to throw the bag a short distance away so he could not reach the knife.  Then I felt him wrenching on my holstered handgun. I heard the sound of the leather creaking and felt the gun being pulled back and forth. I recall the surreal feeling of looking up at a 60-year-old woman pumping her gas about 4 feet away, watching this potential life-or-death battle like nothing was going on. I shouted to her to go call 911. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only 15 seconds, I was able to overpower and subdue him until another officer arrived.

This case highlights how quickly things can escalate and the dangers our officers face. In hindsight I would have done things differently, but at the time I did not have the luxury of knowing what was about to happen. Police officers have to make serious, split-second decisions, often under extreme stress. We must remember that when judging incidents.

Duluth police make a positive impact every minute of every day in our community. While we are human and not without fault, Duluth officers focus on community policing activities and place a high value on relationships with those we serve. We train and expect our officers to de-escalate tense situations and be restrained in the use of force whenever possible.

There are times, however, when police have to use force. If you find yourself in a situation with an officer and you feel you have done nothing wrong, you still need to do what the officer tells you. Some individuals feel they do not have to obey a lawful order from the police, as I've experienced many times. People need to cooperate with police and if they feel wronged or want to make a complaint, they should do it after the interaction is over.

We want to hear about it because we care. Remember, there are cameras in the squad cars, cameras on officers and cameras on many street corners that have proven to be very valuable not only for criminal investigations, but also for complaints. I had a complaint last week that was quickly resolved by reviewing camera footage of the incident that clearly showed the officer did not do what was alleged.

We recognize and embrace the importance of building relationships with our diverse community to break down the feelings of mistrust, but it does take two willing participants to make that happen.

If you are interested in becoming part of the solution and learning more about how we train our officers and why the police do this or that, consider attending the Duluth Police Department's Citizens' Police Academy. The CPA is an informative learning process by which citizens receive classroom and field instruction on the responsibilities facing our officers. Classes are held 6-9 p.m. on Wednesdays for 11 weeks in the spring and fall. If you are interested in taking part, contact Mike Peterson at 730-5040 or email

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Current Police Events Part 1

There are many different policing styles and strategies among law enforcement agencies in this country.  In the next couple of posts I am going to highlight what we are doing in Duluth that seperates us from some other police agencies.  In Duluth, our staff have engrained themselves into the very fabric of our City.  We are the guardians, protectors and helpers of our citizenry, not a militaristic occupying army. Here is a portion of an email I sent to our City Councilors earlier this week that highlights some of our community policing efforts.

Dear Councilors,

In light of the current national events I was hoping to make you aware of our community policing efforts and values that separate us from many of the cities experiencing troubled police-community relations. 

First, our department is focused on building relationships with our community members.  We know that to break down barriers of mistrust we need to build healthy relationships with those we serve.  Every week members of our department are either attending community meetings or we are hosting them.  Whether it be community club meetings, business meetings or neighborhood meetings we are there.  We have been actively engaged with the health and wellness of our youth through programs like the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative to lower the number of juveniles that are incarcerated, the new Police Activities League or spending time at the numerous youth after school programs; our officers seek out opportunities to have positive interaction with our youth.       

 Additionally, we continue to build on our Block Clubs, Neighborhood Watch and Citizen Patrols that engage hundreds and hundreds of residents.  We collaborated to bring a civilian review board to help build transparency and strengthen relationships.  We meet regularly with African American and Native American community organizations and collaborate to find opportunities for positive interaction such as the very popular “Cops, Kids and Cars” events. 

When it comes to use of force issues we focus on deescalating tense situations through verbal communication and listening.  We train to be successful at policing in a free and democratic society that must be restrained in our use of force when ever possible and treat people with courtesy, respect and dignity. 

 The good work that is done by our staff every minute of every day shows in this year’s Citizen survey that gives us a 93% rating of fair, good or excellent.  Cities that are experiencing police community relations problems we've been seeing on the national news can't touch those numbers because all of the work that is done in Duluth to strengthen and maintain our relationship with those we serve.   

 Please do not hesitate to call me if you would like to talk further about any of the current events.


Your Police Chief

Gordon Ramsay

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Vile of Life

Thanks Jery Lawson and Officer Russ Bradley for your work on this great project.

From the Duluth News-Tribune.

Vial of Life program aims to provide quick medical history

The Duluth police and fire departments introduced a program Monday that they say will save lives.

Speaking at the Duluth-St. Louis County Public Safety Building, officials announced the city’s adoption of the Vial of Life program, in which residents can affix a plastic baggie with pertinent medical history and personal details to their refrigerator and a corresponding sticker to their front doors.
“It allows us to give quick care to people in need who are living in their own homes,” said Russ Bradley, the police department’s east community officer. “It alerts first responders that there is medical information available.”

There are 2,500 kits available free at police and fire stations across the city. Bradley said he expected senior citizens, mostly, to use the program, but Vial of Life could benefit anyone.

“When we’re in an emergency situation, time is of the essence,” Duluth Fire Capt. Corey Swartout said. “This is a proven program.”

The local authorities thanked a citizen patroller, Jerry Lawson, for his effort in bringing the program to the Northland. Lawson, who is retired and spends winters in Florida, sought counsel with authorities there after observing the program firsthand.

“It’s going to save lives,” said Lawson, who learned of the program while attending a ride-along with sheriff’s deputies in Daytona Beach, Fla. “Not just older people, but everyone.”

Lawson gave the real-life example of a man who’d had a stroke and couldn’t answer any of the first responders’ questions because the afflicted man couldn’t speak.

In addition to pertinent health information, Vial of Life users can inform first responders of important contact information as well.

Bradley said police can spend exorbitant amounts of time trying to track down family and others.
“Sometimes they can be very difficult to find,” he said.

With quick access to vital health and contact information, first responders figure to be better equipped to help those they serve.

“I think there’s a need for this,” Bradley said.

Essentia Health purchased the stickers for the 2,500 kits and Super One provided the plastic baggies (which years ago replaced the program’s original vials for cost reasons).

What happens if the 2,500 kits get scooped up?

“We’ll make another 2,500,” Lawson said, “and give them out till everybody’s got them.”

Vial of Life kits
To get a free Vial of Life kit, visit:
  • Duluth Police Headquarters, 2030 N. Arlington Ave.
  • West Area Police Station, 5830 Grand Ave.
  • Lincoln Park substation, 2012 W. Superior St.
  • Duluth’s main fire hall, 602 W. Second St.
  • Fire Station 2, 2627 W. Superior St.
  • Fire Station 4, 425 W. College St.
  • Fire Station 6, 1031 N. 51st Ave. E.
  • Fire Station 11, 3501 Woodland Ave.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The formula.......

What does policing need to strengthen trust and build relationships in the communities we serve? 

1. We Need the Right People
We need to better recruit and hire people with maturity, excellent communication skills, compassion, diverse life experience and background as well as a college education. Additionally, we need people who desire to make our neighborhoods better; not someone who sees their job as an occupying force,but a dedicated relationship builder who has a stake in our community’s success.

2. We Need the Right Training
Training of our officers continues to improve. Whether it is crisis intervention training for dealing with those who are mentally ill or de-escalization training or verbal skill enhancement, our officers have never been better trained. But we can do better, I recently heard of a study that found for every hour of extra in-service training an officer receives their use of force incidents drop 4%. That is a good return on your investment. Police involved shootings and improper use of force garner the most attention from our community, so we will continue to train on innovative practices to ensure our officers are trained well above national standards. We will work with all those we serve to build understanding and support for those rare instances when despite officers doing the right thing and for the right reason, things go wrong.

3. We Need Technology
Innovative technology will also help us reduce prevent and reduce crime as well as the need for police to use force. While privacy advocates and I share the same concerns about big government watching our citizen’s activities, there are occasions where emerging technology will prevent a police officer, innocent people or even a dangerous suspect from getting hurt. Innovations are occurring rapidly, so we must begin talking about technology and policing now because technology is often developing faster than good policies can be established. Technology used in policing must be shared openly with the public and vetted properly so there is a clear and legal understanding of when and how the technology can be used to keep our community safe.

4. Community Policing Needs Support
We must continue to embrace and build on community policing. My own career experience with community policing guides me today because I know how well it works. To do community policing right it requires putting the right people in the right places, having sufficient staffing, funding and training. When police build relationships with community members, community groups and our business community we solve problems and reduce crime; as well as improve our neighborhoods. I want our officers to know the business owners and employees as well as the residents in their beats. A serious use of force incident in our community recently showed strong trust and faith in our police department. This support and trust happened as a direct result of the relationships our officers have built with community members. This is what community policing is all about and it is what we will continue to build on in the years ahead.