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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Suicide Awareness

In an effort to bring awareness to the pervasive problem of suicide, I want to highlight how frequently our officers are dealing with these sad situations, particularly during the holiday season. In our region suicides and suicide attempts seem to peak shortly after the holiday season.  Many people are surprised to hear attempted suicide calls are common for our officers to respond to; each year Duluth police respond to well over 400 suicide threat calls and average between 8 and 12 actual suicides.  
Most cops dread a suicide call because of the incomprehensible pain and emotions the loved ones and family members go through.  Investigating a suicide of a juvenile is particularly tough and no doubt these cases are branded in the minds of police officers.  Every police officer has these stories and no doubt are affected in some way by these tragedies. It is an aspect of police work citizens don’t think about.

One suicide I remember that stands out involved a 10 year old boy who returned home from school to find his mother (and only family member in the state) dead from a gun shot wound to the head.  He showed little emotion in the two hours I spent with him as he obviously was in shock and did not comprehend what had happened at that point.  It is two hours of my life I will never forget and I often wonder how the boy is doing.

We also remember those incidents where we have had opportunities to help someone prior to committing suicide.  I know officers often wonder if the intervention made a difference and hope those folks are now better.  Statistics from the National Institute for Mental Health show an estimated 11 nonfatal suicide attempts occur per every suicide death. Men and the elderly are more likely to have fatal attempts than women and youth.

There are lessons to be learned by looking at suicide cases to help us stop a family member or loved one from committing suicide.  If you come away with anything from reading this, remember to always take suicidal comments very seriously. When a person says that he or she is thinking about suicide, you must always take the threats as though the person will follow through.  It is a potentially disastrous error to assume the person making the comments has another motive. 

If someone you know talks of committing suicide and you are in doubt as to what to do, call 911. A police officer will respond and make the decision as to what is in the person’s best interest. Officers are trained in dealing with these situations and will handle them in a sensitive manner, ensuring that the person gets the immediate help they need.

 I’ve run across cases where someone has told a loved one to keep his or her suicidal intentions a secret.  That is a case where you should never keep that secret. Under no circumstances can you keep a "secret" that could cause someone's death. You are not violating any privacy rules; you are taking the steps necessary to prevent a suicide.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Synthetic Drug Enforcement

It appears other States are having trouble with their synthetic drug laws as well.  At last weeks Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association legislative meeting we discussed the need to strengthen our synthetic drug law-where sales of the stuff is only a gross misdemeanor. 

Here is an article on the State of Virginia's struggle with their law.

Here is a good video on synthetic issue that we face.  It provides a good overall background on how dangerous this can be for our society.  Parents, pay attention to this and discuss the concerns with your kids!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful (and continuing to be)

This year started out with the death of a good friend who I lived with at the FBI Academy with for 10 weeks in 2005.  He was only 44 years old and was a genuinely good person.  He had a big impact on me. He spent 22 years protecting the citizens of LA and had made a substantial difference in their Internal Affairs Unit under Chief Bratton.  I miss talking to him, but am thankful of his lessons and my memories of him.

One of my wife's uncles visited us in September.  He was a another good and giving person who I spent a fair amount of time with over the years.  He was easy to be around and had a sparkle in his eye that I will never forget.  He found out he had cancer in October and died just 8 days later. 

I heard a lecture the last week where the issue of death was discussed.  Particularly attention grabbing was a discussion on how we feel after the death of a close friend or family member.  Many of us make comments like, "I am going to be more thankful" or "I am not going to let the little things bother me and keep life in perspective."  Unfortunately, after a week or so we put those feelings back in the closet. 

It has been a rather busy fall around the PD and recently the other day when I was driving my daughter to pre-school I found myself tense while thinking about work. I had almost entirely tuned out my little four year old as she explained her upcoming holiday program and sang songs they would be singing.  I am not sure what snapped me out of it, but I realized what I was missing. I pulled over and asked her to sing a few more of her songs to me -which she did.

I will try and remember how quick life can change and particularly the importance of living in the moment, appreciating what we have today and helping others.  And not for just this Thanksgiving day. 

I hope you have a safe Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


The Occupy movement has been interesting, yet challenging to deal with as police chief.  Group members truly believe in their cause and want things to change. Most of the members have been good to work with.  A few members are very challenging and feel that the only way to further their cause is to force confrontation and be arrested.  The unfortunate thing is the City has worked in earnest to get them compliant with City ordinances, but yet they do not appreciate that. 

Myself, other police chiefs and city officials around the country have found working with a "leaderless group" is difficult.   Some members of the group feel they have been misled by the police department.  While our message was consistent after we learned the plan was to make this a long term protest, we found that unless things were written down the message often got lost or misinterpreted.  I talked to two group members who were very understanding of the need to follow City ordinances, but these guys had just gotten involved in the last few days. 
I have been told by many group members about the problems of homelessness and how it needs to be a priority of government.  A few were surprised when I told them about our efforts in collaboration with CHUM and out reach workers to help find homeless supportive housing.  We have a couple of officers who spend a fair amount of their time on this effort as it reduces crime and increases the quality life for everyone.  They did not know Duluth was leading the way in this effort and has been awarded State grants based on our success. I discovered just as many of the group members think we don't know about their underlying reasons for protest, they don't know what the police department's efforts are to make this a better place for everyone.  Several of our initiatives surprised them and it made me realize we need to do more to let people know the police of today are a lot more than just crime prevention and arresting crooks.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Penn State

I continue to be amazed at the people who were aware of Jerry Sandusky's sexual behavior with young boys and did nothing.  I do not understand how this could occur in this day and age.  Assistant football coach Mike McQueary's said he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy and reported it to school officials.  Now he is claiming he notified police and stopped the assault.  While I am basing my comments on what I read in the news, there appears to be quite the cover up by Sandusky's colleagues.  I hope there are serious consequences for those who knew what was going on, yet did nothing.  And the fact he was released on unsecured bail after being charged with 40 counts of sex crimes against boys is outrageous.  My thoughts and prayers go out to those innocent victims of this pedophile.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I wanted to follow-up on the last post.  I mentioned the perception of crime is often driven by the media.  The perception of crime is often different from reality.  While my media friends may bristle at this, it is the truth.  Earlier this year we responded to a shooting in Lakeside where a guy claimed he was shot while trying to help someone.  Investigators were suspicious from the start.  However, the media coverage was intense.  I received calls from City Councilors and many Lakeside residents who were upset by this shooting and concerned for their safety.  Eventually, we charged the "victim" with several crimes after evidence showed he shot himself

While I realize violent crime needs reporting, how do we balance it with other news?  For instance, the Saturday night Taco John's robbery had headlines on at least one news station Saturday night, Sunday night, and was on again tonight.  The news should be that our commercial robberies are down significantly from years past.....However, crime sells (almost always garnering the most on-line hits) while less crime doesn't.

Maybe it's time to go back to talking about pumpkins and deer.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Crime, News and Perception

Yesterday officers responded to the report of a robbery and stabbing. A couple of news outlets found out about the call and were chasing it down.  Our Public Information Officer, Jim Hansen was called by the media and he requested they hold tight while he talked with investigators. Investigating officers found inconsistencies in the victim's story.  A review of video and the other evidence clearly indicated things did not happen as initially reported.  Investigators discovered the victim had a mental health history and had attempted suicide several times recently.  By the end of the day, investigators believed the stabbing was self inflicted and the robbery did not happen and they hooked the person up with mental health help.

Now consider if the media had covered the story based on what they heard on the scanner (and yes, this happens all too often).  The headline would be, "Person stabbed, robbed in Duluth."   I would say "here we go again."  Crime on the rise, fear for your safety, violent crime every where, run for the hills, would be the theme that many take from the story.  The reality, the crime did not happen.  The report was false and the person stabbed them self due to a mental health crisis.  In the past, when we have had similar type stories do you think the story is ever corrected?  No....The result; an increase in fear of crime.

I have to point out, there have been a fair amount of homicides this year in our area.  Superior, Virginia, Pine County, Sawyer County, and others have all had recent homicides.  How many homicides has Duluth had in 2011 to date?


Monday, November 7, 2011

Pumpkin Vandal Case Solved

Last week my daughter and I spent a lot of time carving pumpkins.  When we were done we placed them on our front porch.  The next morning when I went to grab the newspaper I noticed a couple of them had been removed from the porch and broken in pieces in the front yard.  As I forensically examined them for evidence, I observed teeth marks all over the remnants of my masterpiece.   The vandal(s) was a white tail deer!  Probably the one I almost hit and honked at earlier in the day. Those scoundrels came right up on my porch, removed the pumpkins and proceeded to break it up and eat part of them.  I guess things are a little different now from when I was a kid.....Maybe I shouldn't complain and look at this as a good problem to have as a police chief.

Friday, November 4, 2011


As I've mentioned we have seen an increase in property crimes recently.  Car burglaries are up as well as daytime home burglaries.  Our staff have arrested some of our offenders this week.  An attentive officer caught a crook smashing the window of a car to grab the goods inside and our Property Crimes Unit  arrested a couple of burglars and mail thieves.

Stay tuned for sentences....

Car burglar picture and press release

Burglars and mail thieves press release.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Don't Become a Victim

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but we are continuing to see high number of car burglaries each week.  I took a quick look at some of the recent auto burglary reports and saw check books, purses, lap tops, tools, and book bags (to name a few) had been stolen from cars throughout the City.  Remember, this is a preventable crime.  Remove valuables from your car, report suspicious activity to 911.

Last year officers arrested about 70 individuals for breaking into cars.  They work hard to get these crooks off the street.  A staff member is pulling the arrest numbers for this year as well as reviewing their court imposed sentences for committing the crime.  I will post the findings when they are done in a couple of weeks.  

What do you think a first time car burglar receives for a sentence?