The next stage of community policing
In 1992, Mayor Gary Doty appointed Chief Scott Lyons to usher a community policing philosophy into the Duluth Police Department. This meant changing officers' roles as call responders, bouncing from district to district, to working only in assigned neighborhoods.
With officers assigned to specific neighborhoods, their goal was to build relationships necessary to collaboratively identify and solve community problems. To implement this significant organizational change, Chief Lyons had officers assigned essentially as "ambassadors" to represent the police department in communities throughout the city. This group was a small cadre numbering, at the peak, 14 officers.
This model of community policing has a shelf life with a goal of fully integrating community policing within 15 years. Integrating a change of the culture within an organization takes time. The DPD enjoyed tremendous success with this model.
However, for the past several years, I would attend meetings and hear rave reviews on our community police officers' work. Conversely, the officers assigned to patrol did not receive the same level of kudos, despite being equally talented as the community officers.
It boiled down to one issue: familiarity. The community officers developed deep relationships in their communities because they were afforded time and opportunity to build these relationships. Patrol officers had far less time to engage in relationship-building and therefore focused mostly on emergency call response.
We need every officer to build relationships with the communities they serve. I believe the greatest adversary to successful policing today is anonymity. Trust of police and police embracing the community is founded on knowing and understanding each other. Hearing people's stories, concerns and passions is how we build respect.
In fact, there is evidence that building relationships also impacts perceptions of safety. One study indicated the best tactic police can use to reduce fear of crime is having non-enforcement contact with citizens. Sounds simple but it works. This study demonstrates how important trusting relationships with police are to a community's sense of security.
Fast forwarding to 2016. We retired the 23-year-old tired model of community policing with "ambassadors" and fully integrated community policing into the entire patrol division. Staff worked hard for much of 2015 to develop a new staffing plan and develop a community policing manual to guide the change.
The city was divided up into 13 community policing areas. Officers were assigned to these areas to build relationships and attend community functions in their respective areas. Primary focus for the first three months of 2016 was on attending community meetings and doing outreach opportunities with children.
We are focusing on youth centers and schools. These activities are fantastic for developing relationships and memories with the kids which will last a lifetime. We have engaged kids in activities from athletics to reading and even helped with homework. We have participated in potlucks and pinewood derby races. We even had more than 20 of our officers adopted by a Cub Scout troop in Gary-New Duluth. These super kids send us gifts and cards that tug at our heart strings.
We have great optimism and excitement for our new way of doing business. Today, we have more officers engaged with the community than ever before. We would like future outreach opportunities to include businesses, churches and meet and greets in your neighborhoods. We want to be accessible, available and engaged with people in their places and spaces.
If we haven't been engaged with you or your group, fret not. Please contact Lynn at (218) 730-5020. We look forward to the opportunity to make new friends.
Mike Tusken is the interim chief of the Duluth Police Department.