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Police chief's column: Hi tech = high crime solving

I am involved with a national police organization where I am able to spend time with and learn from some of the best and brightest chiefs in the country. Additionally, every day I read about the activities of police chiefs across the country; whether it is successful crime reduction efforts or issues of police misconduct, if it is in the headlines I will more often than not read about it and learn from it.

In regard to navigating the often turbulent political waters surrounding policing, I have seen successes and failures of police chiefs and their administrations, and have taken away that the best police chiefs remain apolitical, yet are politically astute.

With that in mind, there are some issues that police chiefs get involved with in the legislative process for the sake of public safety.

The legislative session is off to a quick start this year, and there are a few issues we are watching.

Because of some recent national cases, there has been growing concern about government accessing citizens’ data. In some cases, legislation has not kept up with emerging technology.

One issue that I am watching closely relates to automatic license plate readers (LPR), which we have been using for several years now.

The value of LPRs in investigating crime is incredible. It has helped police around the country solve homicides, shootings, rapes and other serious crimes, in addition to flagging stolen or wanted cars and people. Locally, it helped us put pieces together in a kidnapping case, among other major cases.

A concern expressed by some privacy advocates is that the LPR data, which includes the time and location of the plate when it was read, could be used for nefarious or unethical reasons.

Because of these concerns, the Duluth police department and many other departments have developed strict policies that address retention time, data retrieval requirements and strict tracking.

Unfortunately, a couple of departments do not have any guidelines on the use of LPRs. As a result, there are legislators who want to have LPR data erased immediately after the plate is read, with concern about its misuse as the main reason.

I firmly believe if legislators were to adopt laws similar to our policy, any concerns about misusing LPR data will be addressed.

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Let’s hope spring truly arrives this month. Crooks have found that many garage doors are not shutting properly due to all the snow and extreme cold, and as a result we have seen an increase in garage burglaries.

Our burglaries have been down the last few years, and we’d like to continue that trend. It can be accomplished with your help by ensuring your doors are secured and locked.

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Since the early 1990s we have seen increases each year in the number of mental illness calls we respond to. But there is little to no federal and state funding for hospital stays, training for our officers, and everything in between.

State mandates for training police officers has not kept up with the times, and our new officers receive literally no training after college on dealing with the mentally ill. I now know that many of the strategies I used when dealing with the mentally ill were not the best.

We were grateful to receive funding, through the Miller Dwan Foundation a few years ago, to train about 20 officers on the best practices for dealing with mental illness; however, we need to train more, and the money for training is simply not there.

We will continue to look for sources of funding for training; however, this is only part of this complicated issue that has been pushed to the local level. We will continue to work with our local mental health providers and the National Alliance on Mental Illness to ensure we are keeping up with national best practices and standards.

As we roll into spring, we notice that on a nice spring day we can have as many car crashes as with an ice storm, so please remember to drive safely, no matter the weather.

Contact Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay at 730-5020 or gramsay@duluthmn.gov.

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