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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Preventing crises before they happen...

The recent events in Missouri have caused many in our country to examine the role of police in a free society. It is imperative for police to build trusting relationships, be restrained in our use of force whenever possible and be seen as part of the community, not an occupying force. It is my job as chief to ensure we provide our staff with direction and provide the tools and training to handle the difficult decisions they often face while serving our neighborhoods.

If you would have told me, when I entered this profession 22 years ago, that police-community relations in some areas had not improved by 2014, I would have disagreed. We know that the formula for building trust and improving relations with those we serve is through community policing. Lessons learned from terrible incidents in the early '90s like Rodney King and others made the police better at building trust and relationships. Or so I thought. I was naïve to many aspects of the realities of policing: the amount of crime, inept parenting, the terrible things people do to others and all the deceit and amount of dysfunction that exists in our society.


When I was a community policing officer in the Hillside, I found extreme satisfaction in working with community members to make a positive difference. When I took the time to get to know the people that lived and worked in my beat, they felt better because they knew and trusted me. I am a believer in community policing through and through, because of the experiences I had as we worked to reduce crime with neighbors.  One example I vividly remember occurred in 1997, when I came upon a group of African-American teens hanging out in front of the Fourth Street Market. As I approached on my police bike, a few in the group suddenly got quiet and somber. I heard one of the kids huff in a disappointed tone, "Oh, here comes the cops." I was pleased when another youth said, "That's just Gordon. He's cool, but doesn't like us hanging in front of the market."


Our staff regularly hosts and attends community meetings on neighborhood issues. We recently coordinated the largest National Night Out event in Duluth's history. We attend dozens of neighborhood events every month. There are other planned events on the books as well, such as the second annual Cops, Kids and Cars. Our police officers are making a difference every minute of every day. And while we will fumble and make mistakes from time to time, we are committed to maintaining community policing as our primary operating philosophy.


A key aspect of community policing recognizes the need for community members to be engaged and work with police to solve problems. The police cannot do it alone. Simply put, if we want to make things better, we need more people at the table working toward healthy relationships and making our community better. Before there is a crisis.


So while I talk about our department's effort prevent crime, we need more neighbors and community groups to join us in keeping our community safe and healthy. The Duluth Police Department will continue to work closely with anyone who will join us in our efforts.

Friday, August 1, 2014

What's the Future?

When I first entered policing at age 20, I had many preconceived ideas on how I would handle various situations. As I gained more and more experience, I learned it was always easier to be the one critiquing the situation than the one who had to make the split-second decisions, often under significant stress.
 
 
I was naïve and remember being surprised and slightly disillusioned at the dissatisfaction, distrust and contempt for police that existed more than I had initially thought.  Almost 21 years to the day later, we are still talking about the same things: trust and building relationships. We continue to see incidents of police use of force highlighted in the news. With the proliferation of cameras in the private sector and now the use of body cameras by our officers, we know the number of videos associated with police conduct will take center stage.

So where are we going from here, and what is my vision for the next decade to help us continue to build trust and support for our dedicated police officers?

We need the right people.

I see us continuing to fine-tune the way we hire police officers, but first in Minnesota we must change Minnesota’s archaic Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) system that severely limits our candidate pool. Once we get beyond this broken funnel, departments across this state can hire from a larger pool representing more of the candidates we need: those with maturity, excellent communication skills, compassion, diverse life experience and background and 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.

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, de-escalation training or verbal skill enhancement, our officers have never been better trained.
But we can do better. Recently I heard of a study that found for every hour of extra in-service training an officer receives, their use-of-force incidents drop four percent. 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 things for the right reasons, things go wrong.

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 understand of when and how it can be used to keep our community safe.

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 requires putting the right people in the right places and 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.

We have enjoyed great community support and it 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.