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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.