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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?