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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Editorial on Body Cameras

Here is an editorial I wrote for the News-Tribune on police body cameras last weekend.  Unfortunately, I could not write all I wanted to because it would have taken up a pages of the paper.  Here is the piece. 


Police Chief's View: Nation’s police can follow Duluth’s lead

Keeping up with technology to police more effectively has been a priority of the Duluth Police Department. After I became police chief in 2006, our department began outfitting our squad cars with dash-mounted video cameras. While some staff were skeptical at first, it did not take long for them to become supportive. In 2009, small video cameras that could be worn on a person’s upper body began to be produced, and we took immediate interest. Unfortunately, short battery life, cost, video storage and poor quality were several of the factors that delayed our deployment of the body camera. We continued to test various models over the last few years and settled on a model last year that meets our needs.
With strong support from Mayor Don Ness and our City Council, we have purchased about 100 cameras and fully implemented them for the entire patrol division in early July. Every patrol officer is assigned a body camera. While there are many departments trying out body cameras on a trial basis, I am aware of only a few mid-sized or large police agencies that have fully implemented body cameras through their entire patrol division; the Duluth Police Department is leading the way.

A few of the benefits of body cameras include capturing interaction and encounters, evidence documentation, added transparency and complaint resolution. I believe police body cameras will further strengthen our officers’ legitimacy in our city.

We already have found the value of the cameras when investigating citizen complaints. I received a concern from a citizen regarding a potential improper police interaction with an acquaintance of his. I reviewed the video footage and found the two officers involved showed extreme patience and civility while dealing with one of the more obstinate individuals I’ve seen. I was so impressed with the way the officers handled this individual that I took the time to commend them and thank them for their professionalism.

Prior to implementing body cameras, we knew some of the drawbacks. First, video footage is a two-dimensional view of a three-dimensional view. Cameras show some of what an officer sees but not everything. Additionally, there will be extra requests for videos from prosecutors, defense attorneys and the public. On calls requiring numerous officers, we’ve found there can be dozens of body-worn cameras recording the incident. Those videos need to be watched by investigators, prosecutors and defense attorneys and then stored, which costs money.

We’ve built a solid policy governing the use of body cameras through collaboration with the Duluth Police Union, the Civilian Review Board, department volunteers and input from the American Civil Liberties Union. While I believe the actions of our police officers are a matter of public record, there are going to be instances recorded by police body cams that raise important questions about privacy — particularly when inside someone’s home. Eventually there will be law changes and best practices that come out of the evolving use of body cameras in policing. Our data privacy laws need to be updated to reflect public sentiment on this issue.

I commend Mayor Ness and City Council members for their tremendous support of body cameras and for continuing to ensure the Duluth Police Department remains a leader in policing.

Gordon Ramsay is chief of the Duluth Police Department. He wrote this at the request of the News Tribune Opinion page.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

DPD Compliment of the week

What you won't hear about on the news....DPD compliment of the week.

 To: Gordon Ramsay
Subject: Great Officers!

Hello Chief Ramsey,

On Sunday, September 14th, I had to call for police assistance in getting my brother in law to the hospital for a mental health evaluation. First and foremost, the officer (Female) demonstrated complete professionalism right from the first phone call from her cell,... ensuring their safety was secured so they could enter in to the situation with every bit of knowledge possible.

This was an extremely
difficult phone call for me to make as never in my life would I have ever thought I would have had to do such a thing. My brother in law is a wonderful human being who has suddenly developed some behavioral disturbances following three strokes that he has had and unfortunately, one of the strokes has affected his frontal lobe in which memory, impulse control and emotion is impacted.

All of your officers WERE FANTASTIC!

I would really like to take a moment to give special attention to your female officer. Forgive me… I can’t exactly recall her name but it was similar to Shelly or Shari …. (Working out in West Duluth that day) When I explained the situation to her, I will NEVER forget her empathetic, attentive and caring eyes. Something so little was so significant to me during this time of intense stress. Just knowing that judgment wasn’t being passed as it usually is due to the typical stigma of mental illness was beyond comforting. The person centered way all of your officers handled my family member was nothing short of completely dignified, empathetic and they all demonstrated unconditional, positive regard.

I am very proud to read about these wonderful officers who make a difference each and every day and I certainly didn’t want to miss an opportunity to give them all a high five from me as well!

A huge thanks to the department for the clear commitment you all have and the “soft skills” demonstrated by this female officer! I’m beyond impressed!



Monday, September 22, 2014

Police Work

I've been feeling that I have been sitting at my desk too much lately, so I decided to spend some time out on the street, working with the men and women who keep our city safe. I spent an afternoon with our drug task force, serving warrants for methamphetamine cases last week. While meth does not capture the headlines like it has in the past, it is still a problem drug in our region.

I spent some time at a duplex while a meth warrant was served. There were about four individuals in the home and they were all young and physically capable of working; however, no one was employed. They were all obviously addicted to meth. Their faces were gaunt with dark circles around their eyes. A couple had open sores and could have been the faces we see on the meth awareness ads on billboards and TV.

I talked with a few neighbors who seemed pleased with the police activity that disrupted a house that has been a concern on their block. A tenant upstairs whispered out of her window to me, "Is there anything I need to be worried about?" I told her what we were doing and she said she keeps to herself and had no idea. I called the landlord on the phone while I was standing in the front yard of his property and explained why we were there. He was very quiet, other than saying thanks for calling him.

I still am amazed at how a small percentage of our landlords is the source of most of the problems. Our officers know troubled properties and can rattle off the landlords' names, addresses, problems and efforts to solve the issues, like a doctor diagnosing and helping a cancer patient.

Along the lines of problem properties, I worked last Friday night on the street and helped out with a couple of party calls in the East Hillside. The parties primarily consisted of college-age students who were very polite and concerned about the police contact. Of the 75 or so young adults we dealt with, there was only one person who posed any trouble, an argumentative young man who obviously had been drinking. His astute friends realized his shortcoming and escorted him out of the area. I wrote a couple of underage consumption tickets and a social host ticket at those calls. The tenants of the homes we were at were concerned about how their property managers were going to react to the police call.

It was clear to me our efforts in addressing problem properties has had an impact with regard to loud parties. I would be remiss if I did not thank the leaders at the University of Minnesota Duluth for their collaboration in our effort to reduce underage drinking and loud parties. Our loud party calls continue to drop and are down significantly from years past.

One of the areas I wanted to spend time last Friday night was around First Avenue West and First Street, particularly around closing time. While it's great to see the area busy with foot traffic and young adults out enjoying themselves, we continue to see an increase in disturbances and fights in this area. An interesting part of this equation is that 10 years ago you could have shot a cannon ball down First Street and not hit a soul in the early morning hours. Now the street is crawling with people having fun.

One of the biggest changes for policing in our community was option for bars to stay open from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. that occurred 10 years ago when a State law was changed. Prior to the extended bar hours, I used to watch the train of cars going to Superior for a night of fun. I'd listen to fight call after fight call along Tower Avenue chirping from the Superior police radio channel. All that has changed now and instead of listening to the alcohol-fueled fights in Superior at 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., I am seeing it in Duluth.

The problems we are noticing are associated with only a couple of bars and not representative of the majority of the bars in Duluth. The common denominator in the bar closing fights is that many people are over-served and are very intoxicated, leading to bad behavior. We will be working with the problem bars to help them address over-serving in an effort to keep people and the neighborhood safe. If we are not successful at reducing fights and disturbances associated with a problem bar, we may seek alternative solutions which could include earlier closing times and other sanctions.
I'm glad that I have the opportunity to get away from my desk and into the streets. I still like working the street doing police work. In addition to writing some tickets and reports, I am able to keep a pulse on how things look after dark, as well as see the great work our officers are doing to ensure our neighborhoods' quality of life remains.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Minnesota's Police Hiring Process Must Evolve

This editorial was printed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Duluth News-Tribune this week.

Police chiefs' view: Open up the police recruitment process

An August newspaper article in the Twin Cities focused on an issue we have been working to improve for several years. Simply stated, the “funnel” from which we must hire police officers is broken. And it is time for our system to evolve to meet the needs of our cities.
In the late 1970s, Minnesota led the nation when it came to police officer education and standards. This state was one of the first to create a regulatory agency, called the Police Officers Standards and Training, or POST. Today, POST is overseen by an executive director and a board of 15 individuals who represent higher education, chiefs, sheriffs, officers, elected officials and community members. In addition to ensuring departments meet policy, education and training standards, POST also mandates that candidates to be police officers have a minimum of a two-year degree in law enforcement or criminal justice from a POST-accredited school.

Despite strong recruitment efforts and POST’s best intentions, we are not seeing two types of applicants that are crucial to our community policing efforts. First, the number of applicants from culturally diverse backgrounds is very low because our process for becoming a police officer has not evolved with our needs. Second, we lack candidates with significant life experience and maturity, or what we call “second-career candidates.” Second-career candidates are those who have worked in other professions, who have seen things through a different lens, and who bring empathy and compassion through personal experience. That’s something that cannot be taught yet is a critical attribute in our police officers.

Most Minnesota chiefs know people with significant life and educational experience who would like to become police officers and would make excellent ones but who simply cannot afford to quit their jobs to attend additional schooling and an academy on their own time and dime. The very life experience and diversity we are looking for is systematically filtered out of the police process because of financial costs and time commitments.

For instance, a single working mom (who may still be paying back student loans) cannot quit her job for a year to go back to school and attend the police skills academy, as required by POST.
Although our state’s standards for educating and training police officers remain high, to our knowledge, Minnesota is the only state in our nation that imposes such limitations on hiring.

In the end, we need to make it more attractive for anyone other than those who choose a traditional police education route to enter law enforcement, thus substantially increasing our pool of candidates.
Our two departments run their own police academies and will be seeking approval to hire people with any college degree and train them to the POST standards. We believe this will expand our hiring pool and maintain the professionalism of our state’s police officers that POST established nearly 40 years ago. We also believe it will ensure our communities are served by the brightest, most diverse people who represent the communities we serve.

Gordon Ramsay is Duluth’s police chief. Janee Harteau is the Minneapolis police chief.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Heroin and Prescription Pain Meds

I attended a meeting on the state of heroin in Minnesota yesterday and believe there are still too many people that do not understand how we got to where we are today with this serious public health issue. Heroin and opiate based prescription pain pills continues to have a terrible impact on families in every corner of our community. Four out of five heroin users start by using prescription opiate pain pills. While the opiate drug problem is touching all ages, it is impacting teens and young adult the most.
Be aware that opiate based pain pills are nothing to fool around with. I hear stories every week about kids experimenting with prescription opiates that think because it is prescribed by a doctor it can't be dangerous or have negative impacts. Many of the kids experimenting with the prescription pills end up on heroin not too far down the road.

Report suspected heroin or illegal prescription drug sales to our drug unit at 730-5750 or email or text by visiting our tip page