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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…..

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.