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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Beyond the Headlines

I keep hoping that one of these days I will turn on the morning news and see something positive about policing. National events impact many of our citizens here. They want reassurance that our use of force and interaction with those we serve are not what is happening in some areas of the country. They want to know how Duluth officers are different than what they are reading and seeing on the news; specifically, what we are doing to ensure force is used as a last option and that we are treating all citizens fairly, with respect and dignity.       
Rarely does an officer suddenly jump into serious misconduct. There are usually warning signs. When caught early and with proper supervisory involvement, the officer can get on track. Just like we work to prevent crime, we work to prevent misconduct through the use of this system along with good leadership, policies and oversight.

Another major area we focus on is using communication to de-escalate tense situations. Our best officers rarely have to fight with people and are able to gain cooperation through talking. I've heard of one college teaching something called "ask, tell, make." This is terrible way to teach potential police officers and leads to problems that make the news.
Study after study clearly indicates the public wants police officers to use their communication skills to calm situations down. Because I spend time on the street paying attention to this very issue, I know our officers understand the need to communicate to resolve conflict and use force only when necessary.

As chief I also am keenly aware of the need to balance use of force and officer safety. That balance is like walking a tightrope for our officers. I am concerned that an officer or individual could get hurt because of a decision not to take action for fear of discipline. But because of our hiring, training and practices, Duluth officers clearly understand the need to communicate and slow incidents down with the intent of resolving things peacefully.
A lot of concerns in policing boil down to the critical issue of hiring the right people. We look for life experience, character, education, adversity and communication skills as a foundation to hire the best people. Having hired two-thirds of our officers, I can assure you that we have some of the best officers in the country serving this city. Additionally, community members are a critical part of our hiring process and are involved at interviews at all levels.

As the recent past president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, I have again been hearing from chiefs about the difficulties in finding and hiring suitable officer candidates. There was a recent story in the Star Tribune that highlighted the lack of diversity in many urban and suburban police departments in Minnesota. I believe it is time for a change to the Minnesota police licensing system because the current licensing requirements filter out valuable second-career candidates, the poor and people of color. While in the '70s and '80s this system helped improve our education and training requirements, it simply has not kept up with the evolution of policing.

Currently, if someone with a four-year degree in business or social work wants to become a police officer in Minnesota, they will need to go back to school for a year and then put themselves through a full-time academy at their own expense. It is time for a change. I am hopeful that our elected officials see the need for changes to current requirements to help increase the pool of candidates that our communities are seeking.

With 700,000-plus police officers in this country, you are going to have some abuse their authority. But the overwhelming majority of police officers have a service-before-self mentality and want to build healthy, positive relationships with those we serve

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

It Keeps Happening

A few of our staff here at DPD were early adopters and promoters of social media for our department.  Their forward thinking moved us ahead of the game and lead many other departments into the use of social media.  There were the usual internal skeptics of course; I heard the jokes and negative comments, but I think we've turned the tide.  In 2007 we never would have guessed the role social media would play in solving crime. 

It took a while to get the buy in, but now our officers and investigators are now routinely sending our public information officer photos of suspects to have them posted.  The results are amazing.  I just read about another success story this morning.

Social media has become not only a great tool for criminal investigations, but makes me wonder if it has become a crime prevention tool.  And isn't prevention of crime at the very foundation of what police are all about?



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.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Policing Today

The world of policing is going through the roughest time in decades, but the profession will evolve, improve and be better than before. It seems so far this year there have been weekly police incidents nationally that capture our attention. It is tough to see the good work every day drowned out by stories of misconduct.

In the aftermath of recent highly visible police incidents, President Obama convened a task force to examine the state of policing and make recommendations to improve police-community relations. The recommendations were released in a report last month. As one of our lieutenants pointed out after reading the report, the Duluth Police Department already does a lot of what is recommended. This week, I will summarize the first pillar of the task force's recommendations and what we're doing in Duluth.

Image result for duluth police

The first focus area of the task force recommendations involve "building trust and legitimacy." Police need to incorporate into their daily activity the tenets of procedural justice, which is defined in the report as "treating people with dignity and respect, giving individuals a voice during encounters, being neutral and transparent in decision-making and conveying trustworthy motives." As I've written here before, we do a lot of work on relationship-building and transparency that no one ever knows about.

In January, I sat down with a group of African-American community leaders who were concerned we were ticketing too many kids of color and creating a "school-to-prison pipeline." We reviewed cases involving tickets issued in schools. A synopsis of each case was presented without names or identifying information. Together, we reviewed every case into December of the school year.

We issue a disproportionate number of tickets to African-American youth and I want to do everything we can to ensure understanding, fairness and transparency. In this meeting the community leaders led me to believe they were in agreement with the majority of the outcomes. My charge to our officers who work in schools is to coach, guide, mentor and use discretion to keep youth out of the criminal justice system to the fullest extent possible.

An obvious area addressed in the report revolves around police use of force. Excessive use of force can undermine the public's trust and officers must be restrained to the extent possible. We need to focus not just on a legal justification, but a moral justification as well. While I don't ever want to see our officers get hurt by using ill-considered tactics, police actions must meet with public acceptance.

We just sent several officers and other community leaders to be trained as trainers — thanks St. Luke's Foundation for their financial support — in crisis intervention. This is one of the more effective programs that trains officers how to work with the mentally ill or people in crisis and to de-escalate situations. We need to continue to focus on talking through tense situations and gaining voluntary cooperation whenever possible.

A group of 20 officers went through this training several years ago and have struggled how to train more staff. With certified trainers now on staff, we hope to have all of our patrol officers trained over the next 12 months.

In Duluth we have focused on the community guardian concept: open dialog, building relationships, creating positive contacts, approachability and community policing. As Plato wrote, "In a republic that honors the core of democracy, the greatest amount of power is given to those called Guardians. Only those with the most impeccable character are chosen to bear the responsibility of protecting the democracy."

Additionally, the report recommends placing department policies online for accessibility, something Duluth police did some time ago. Internal and external surveys are recommended to gauge community trust and needs. We have used surveys extensively. The most recent citizen survey, administered by the International City and County Managers Association from 2014, found 93 percent of the respondents rated contact with Duluth police as excellent, good or fair.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Demands on Police Continue to Grow

Last month, I wrote about the perception of crime versus the reality and how our homicides, robberies, burglaries and car thefts are down from years past. This month I want to acknowledge that while the most visible, serious crimes are down, quality-of-life issues and general demands for police continue to rise.

The number of officers on the street is about the same it was in the 1970s, despite going from about 30,000 cases a year back then to over 100,000 in 2014. When I started here in the mid-90s, there were one or two patrol districts where you could go an entire 12-hour shift with only one or two calls.

Today, that is unheard of. The amount of illegal drugs, chemical abuse, child abuse and neglect, Internet crimes, child pornography, human trafficking, mental illness and residential care facilities is keeping our officers very busy.

Several officers have expressed concern they are getting burned out with the call load and would like more officers on the street. We are currently updating our strategic plan, but it is becoming clear we may have to change some business practices due to the increasing demands on staff.

Police have had additional unfunded burdens place on them through law changes. Prior to 1997, when a convicted sex offender was released, there were no registration or public notification requirements. Today, we know that a certain percentage of sex offenders are likely to reoffend and we are responsible to ensure registration requirements are met, so we now have the equivalent of one and a half officers ensuring sex-offender compliance.

New types of crime have also increased.   In the early and mid-90’s internet crime was unheard of.  Today, we now have an officer assigned to computer crimes and forensics. Sadly, we continue to see increases in the amount of child pornography traded on the Internet. Studies have shown that 70-80 percent of those who look at child porn also abuse children. Currently, we are struggling to keep up with the volume of child pornography cases and not all are investigated.

Human trafficking is an area where, historically, we didn't know the extent of the problem. Since we now realize a high percentage of runaways are targeted and pulled into trafficking, we have an officer designated to investigate runaways and human trafficking cases.  We do more outreach and preventative work in this area than ever. Trafficking cases are very time-intensive because of the sensitivity and dynamics associated with the crime. It can easily take an investigator two years of solid investigative work to bring charges in a case. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to investigate every potential trafficking case, but have allocated staff to investigate as many of these cases as possible.

Special events also continue to thrive in Duluth, which is great for the economy. We will have 53 special events this year that need traffic and crowd coordination; that's 16 more than 2012 and there is the potential for an additional four new events this year. These events are often personnel-intensive and require significant resources to keep attendees safe from traffic or other threats. 9-11 and the Boston marathon bombing, for instance, changed the way police manage large special events ensure everyone's safety.

Our citizens expect that we operate under the community policing philosophy, but it requires additional resources. In the 1990s, President Clinton allocated significant spending to pay for additional police officers. At one point, Duluth had eight federally funded community policing positions. Today, federal funding is a fraction of what it was and we are struggling to fill the positions.

Community policing is more personnel-intensive than the traditional policing model which we operated under until the early '90s. We will continue to seek out grants and funding to help us with our staffing. We know the financial challenges the city faces and are working to find balance in what services we can and cannot continue to provide as part of our strategic planning process.

We have a wonderful cadre of volunteers who help us every day in a variety of ways. We would not be able to do it without them!

I will keep you updated on our strategic planning.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The 2014 numbers are in and unlike our friends in the corporate world, we are not measuring sales numbers, profits and margins. We are measuring crime.

Overall, we are pleased with the 2014 numbers. Keep in mind, we don't have a lot of crime here to begin with. As a result, a few more car thefts, robberies or burglaries can create a noticeable increase.

We frequently see one-person crime sprees that have a serious impact on our yearly totals. When I was in the juvenile bureau, I investigated one 17-year-old who committed at least 70 burglaries and stole 30 cars in a six-month period. That was 17 years ago and since then, he has been convicted of multiple other crimes.

Regardless, crime statistics are one performance measure we utilize heavily. Other performance measurements involve annual surveys, crash data, officer injuries, complaints, use of force and many more. What we measure and track, we benchmark and improve. Our three analysts track trends, criminals, patterns, problem addresses and other variables and disseminate that information to our staff.

Most department members watch and know what's going on and where. We know what is happening, so none of the stats are a surprise to us. We could probably attach names to the various crimes and staff could estimate how many that individual was responsible for. While we know who is committing the crimes, it isn't as easy as it looks on TV to gather enough evidence to prosecute them.
Four crimes we track closely are robberies, burglaries, auto theft and theft from autos, because they have a nexus to many other problems in our community. How about a quick quiz?

In one year there were 1,527 burglaries, the most since the Duluth police began keeping statistics in 1943. What year was it?
A. 2014
B. 2007
C. 1997
D. 1987
E. 1977

The answer is 1977, when there were 1,527 burglaries. Last year we had 504 burglaries, the fewest since 1960, when we had 465 reported. Keep in mind, Duluth has more households now than ever; they are just smaller.

Let's try another. What year had the highest number of auto thefts?
A. 2014
B. 2006

The answer is 1976, with 663 auto thefts. Last year there were 161, the fewest since 1956, with 152.

The bottom line here is that we have hundreds fewer victims because we are reducing crime.
I realize many people don't feel as safe as they used to, which has more to do with decline in our neighborhoods and owner-occupied housing, 24/7 sensationalized crime news reporting and a host of other factors.

Our robberies reached their high from 2005 to 2009 when we didn't have a year with under 100. The last two years we've had 73 and 75, respectively.

We had 27 homicides between 1999 and 2003. From 2010 through today we've had nine. Duluth police officers are working hard to keep our community safe.

So while statistics are one measure of crime, the most important factor for those of us at Duluth Police Department is how safe people in our community feel. We recognize the perception and fear of crime is worse than crime itself.

We will continue to focus on prevention of crime and making people feel safe in our great city.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Social Workers and Police

We have been working with St. Louis County Social Services over the last year to improve our response to those in mental crisis.  Since 2007 our mental illness related calls have risen by more that 35%.  Two of our three homicides last year involved those with serious mental illness and an officer involved shooting involved a subject in crisis threatening with a knife.  Too often we are seeing individuals in suddenly acute mental crisis slip through the cracks and police are left dealing with them as the after hours social workers.  Unfortunately, a result of the lack of resources in this area, mentally ill are often cited or arrested and are brought to the county jail.  With proper treatment and care, these individuals would not be spending time in jail.  As I've said before, our jails are our mental hospitals of the past.       

St. Louis County board members will be considering a proposal next week to fund an embedded social worker to operate in the Duluth police department.  This position will review mental illness related police calls and ensure everything is being done quickly and efficiently to help those in crisis.  They will work hand in hand with our staff to swiftly address those in need of care for their illness. 

I believe this effort will help us reduce incarceration rates of those suffering from mental illness, reduce the amount of court resources involved in mental illness, reduce police time spent on mental illness related calls and help those who are in crisis.

We will continue our efforts related to mental health court, outreach and community intervention group and are excited about the prospects of having an embedded social worker.

Here is story on this effort by channel 21.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Over the last eight years, members of our department have worked to recruit and build citizen volunteers. Demands on police services continue to climb and our many community volunteers help us with everything from answering phones to traffic control at special events
While I often share stories about the good work our officers do in neighborhoods, I want to highlight two individuals who have had a tremendous impact on policing efforts. Last week, we recognized two of our most active citizen volunteers, Pam Kleinschmidt and Jerry Lawson.

Pam, to whom we fondly refer as the mayor of Lincoln Park, regularly staffs our Lincoln Park office and West Duluth Station, answering phones and assisting with walk-in traffic. She has been instrumental in helping us build relationships with residents and businesses in Lincoln Park. She organizes monthly meetings for citizens and makes sure their concerns are addressed.
Pam goes out of her way at her own expense, taking phone calls from concerned citizens at all hours of the day and night. She spends many hours each week keeping an eye on problem areas in her neighborhood and works with us to develop solutions.

Several years ago, we needed help managing seized cars used to commit crimes. Demands were pulling our staff in many different directions. We needed a mechanic, an accountant and a customer service representative. We were fortunate enough to find a multitalented individual, Jerry Lawson, who was able to fill all those needs. Jerry has been instrumental in the day operation of our vehicle impound lot and we truly could not manage it without him.
There isn't a job Jerry can't do. Additionally, he helped us establish the "Vial of Life" program, which provides medical information to first responders. He also helped expand and improve our citizen patrol program.

I was honored to present Jerry and Pam with Police Chief's Citizen Partnership Awards. I am grateful for all they do for our community and police department.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Initiative To Improve Our Response

I've written about the increase in mental illness related police calls and our efforts to collaborate with our community partners like homeless outreach, social services, public defenders, prosecutors and courts to improve our response.  Through partnering with others, we created a successful community intervention group (CIG) to deal with habitual offenders who often suffer from chemical dependency and mental illness.  These collaborative efforts are paying off with results, but there is still room for improvement.  Police officers are on the front line of helping those with mental illness in our community and we're often involved with complex issues that officers have little or no control over due to lack of available resources and the nature of our system.

Last year, I began talking with others about embedding a social worker in the police department to work closely with our staff and focus on people suffering from mental illness, severe chemical dependency and homelessness that our officers are dealing with daily.  The embedded social worker would  use their knowledge of the social service network, civil court system and appropriate treatment options to improve our response.

We are still in the design phase of this initiative and are searching for a funding stream.  It is my hope to have this effort up and running in the second half of the year. 

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.