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Citizen Review Board is an invaluable partner

I might be a bit biased, but the Duluth Police Department is an excellent police department with super people. Every day I am filled with pride to see the selfless and dedicated service to our citizens. I have so many stories of our people going above and beyond to improve the lives of those in our community. We have people who truly live our mission to provide the highest level of service through partnerships and problem-solving in a professional, ethical and timely manner. This is how we earned a mid-80 percent approval rating from our community.

So why do we need a Citizen Review Board (CRB), which has the duty to review police complaints? It is critically important to sustain community transparency and trust. In 2016, we anticipate having 107,000 citizen contacts with about 70 complaints. Most times complaints are generated by contacting the police department administration or a supervisor.

I appreciate and respect the social contract theory of policing. The great power police hold is not given to them by a government entity, through wearing a uniform, pinning on a badge or carrying a gun. Rather, it is only granted to them by the people who allow us to hold this great power to police with dignity and respect for all. In recent years we have seen cities in America where this power is essentially revoked or rejected by citizens. What follows may be anarchy and violence, and carries deep-seeded distrust taking years, decades and generations to repair.

The CRB is an advisory body to the police department and City Council to foster relationships and strengthen trust and communication with the citizens of Duluth. The Secretary of the Board is newly appointed Human Rights Officer Carl Crawford.

So how does it work? The board holds monthly meetings, most commonly held at City Hall, which are open to the public. This gives me or my designee the opportunity to provide updates on the police department and answer questions the board might have regarding operations, policy or training. During the meeting, the CRB receives a summary of officer complaint investigations to review the nature of complaints, monitor trends of complaints and offer perspective on the need for new training, policy or procedure.

The board can also directly receive complaints from citizens who are not comfortable reaching out to the police department.

As a new chief, I appreciate and value the CRB's perspective. I intend to foster a collaborative relationship with them to hear community concerns and ask them to help me reach citizens who may struggle to trust us.

Over the past several months, the board helped me mediate a complaint where a citizen expressed distrust in our department. The CRB was instrumental in facilitating for me to have a meaningful meeting with the citizens to listen, hear and begin to heal and rebuild trust. It was a poignant reminder of the fragility of trust.

When I began an initiative to provide less lethal launchers — which are designed to incapacitate the target without penetrating the skin or causing serious injury — to our patrol officers, I engaged the CRB to participate in training. I wanted them to understand the importance of having our staff have the tools to save a life. The CRB trained, asked questions, gained understanding and actually shot the launchers. Their understanding and approval was critical to ensuring the new initiative had broad support from the police and the community.

Lastly, the CRB was an integral part in helping us retool our complaint intake process and how we do administrative investigations. It streamlines the process from having complaints handled by many lieutenants, to the creation of a unit as a single source of conducting administrative investigations. This enhancement has resulted in more timely and consistent investigations.

I will take this opportunity to recognize the citizens whose work has influenced organizational and operational change at the Duluth Police Department. The board is comprised of five Duluth citizens: Doug Bowen-Bailey, Renee VanNett, Archie Davis, Patricia Benning and Joan McNamara. Doug, Renee and Archie have no professional law enforcement experience, while Joan and Patricia have significant law enforcement experience in command positions. Each member offers a valuable perspective to help guide DPD to keep and hold public trust by using best practices in policing to deliver the excellent customer service our city expects and deserves.

Thank you, CRB, for your work as a partner and mentor!

Mike Tusken

Contact Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken at 730-5020.