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Dispatches from the street

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 70 percent 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 when the Minnesota Legislature approved an option for bars to stay open from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. over 10 years ago. 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've learned that I still have a tremendous passion for 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.

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

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