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Western District Police Department seeks community connections

Posted on 13 January 2019 by Calvin

The Western District is the largest of the three police districts in St. Paul. With headquarters at 389 Hamline Ave. N., it is home to 120 police officers, sergeants, commanders, and civilian employees. ]

The senior commander is Steve Anderson, a 29-year veteran of the police force who was born and raised near Hamline and Edmund avenues. “The formula we use is 40% community engagement and 60% enforcement. There is no way we could be successful in our police work without the help of the community,” Anderson said.

Photo right: Senior commander Steve Anderson recommends starting or joining a Block Club as a way to build community and reduce crime. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Anderson was appointed to his position in 2017, the same year that criminal activity in and around Hamline Park was becoming a serious problem. A former Hamline Recreation Program kid himself, he decided to increase the police presence there on bicycles—not just in squad cars. “We bolstered our beat officers on bikes from two to six, and those are full-time positions,” he said. “The officers were able to interact with kids and identify those who were at risk for, or already were, committing crimes. The incidence of assaults quickly declined and has stayed down.”

“There are a lot of demands on beat officers,” he said, “because they’re responsible for everything that happens in their assigned grid. It’s usually just a few people who are causing problems in a neighborhood. The beat officers are tasked with getting to know families and neighbors, making face-to-face connections with the community they serve. We try to gain people’s trust. Once the beat officers learned which families had kids involved in criminal activity at Hamline Park, our community engagement unit, gang unit, and social services work with the parents to try and steer their kids in a better direction.”

The Western District covers a sprawling area: extending roughly from the Minneapolis border on the west, 35E on the east, W. 7th St. on the south, and Larpenteur Ave. on the north.

Every third Tuesday, community meetings are held at police headquarters at 9:30am and 6:30pm. The Jan. 15th meetings provided an overview of 2018, as well as a year-end police report.

Attendance runs consistently high at these meetings. There are often guest speakers on issues that relate to policing, such as the use of force and new technologies like body cameras.

In addition, the St. Paul Police Department has a monthly get-together called Coffee with a Cop. Each of the three districts takes turns hosting, and all three senior commanding officers attend each month, as well as a handful of officers. The next scheduled gathering in the Western District is Feb. 26 from 9-11am at the White Castle at Lexington and University avenues. In a time when police/ community relationships can feel strained, this is an excellent opportunity to get to know each other better in an informal setting.

Like every police force in the country, the Western District is in need of more persons of color (especially women) interested in becoming officers. The St. Paul Police Department has launched the Law Enforcement Career Path Academy to ensure that young adults who want to serve as peace officers have the resources they need to succeed. Participation is aimed at adults between the ages of 18 to 24, who live in or around St. Paul, come from low-income families, or face barriers to employment. Call the Community Engagement Office at 651-266-5485 to learn more.

According to Anderson, the biggest problem facing police right now is the connection between violence, gangs, and social media. “Over 50% of our gang-related incidents are a reaction to social media posts,” he said. “Real or perceived slights provoke violence over and over again. Officers respond to these incidents, but they’re extremely hard to get ahead of because they happen so quickly.”

What can citizens do? According to Anderson, “If you see something, report it—but just give the dispatcher the facts. Similarly, if you make a social media post about something you saw—try to keep your opinions to yourself.”

To report a crime, call 911. For a non-emergency anywhere in St. Paul, call 651-291-1111. If you’re unsure which number to call, opt for 911.

Text-to-911 is now available throughout Minnesota, but should only be used when a person can’t safely make a voice call. Text-to-911 is a discreet way to report domestic violence, home invasion, human trafficking, or someone who appears at risk for suicide. Enter 911 in the “TO” field, then text your exact location and type of emergency. Text-to-911 has a 160 character limit, and there is no language translation available at this time.

“I’ve been a police officer for almost three decades,” Anderson said, “and I’ve only been involved in one exchange where shots were fired. Contrary to what people see on TV, flying bullets are not a daily thing for front line officers—though the possibility is always there. We are working hard to deter crime, to keep it from happening. I’m proud to say that in the Western District, we had a 22% reduction in shots fired in 2018. It’s impressive how many positive things a street cop does every day. This is the norm for most cops.”

Contact administrative assistant Olivia Scullark at 651-266-5423 with any questions about the St. Paul Police Department’s Western District.

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