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Briefings allow residents to give Duluth police feedback

Duluth police Lt. Leigh Wright loved the idea of meeting with residents over a cup of coffee to hear community concerns about crime and policing.

The department tried that, holding a handful of “Coffee with a Cop” sessions, but Wright grew tired of seeing only four or five people show up each time. She decided a new approach was needed.

The result is an ongoing series of community meetings in Lincoln Park, where officers provide a briefing on neighborhood issues and listen to questions and concerns from residents and business owners. Dubbed “Comm-U-nity CompStat,” Wright said the program is an effort to help the community hold police accountable.

CompStat, short for “computer statistics,” is a philosophy that has been used by many larger police departments nationwide for about two decades.

The strategy focuses on crime trend analysis and preventative policing strategies.

“I decided it would be great to bring that to the community,” Wright said. “We can not only give the community the traditional stats and tell them what we’re doing, but we ask them what they’d like us to do and where they’d like to see us.”

Wright conceptualized the program as a way for residents to raise concerns on topics ranging from drug use to blighted properties to dangerous intersections. Traditional CompStat methods could then be used to analyze those problems and implement solutions.

The program is still new; just a couple of meetings have been held since it was initiated in September.

But, Wright said, the initiative already is showing results. Wright, who serves as west area commander, said she has used suggestions from the meetings to decide how to better deploy her patrol officers.

Crime around the Seaway Hotel, for example, was a major topic of discussion. In turn, officers were assigned to monitor the area and crack down on crime.

“Patrol officers are primarily 911 responders,” Wright said. “But when they have available time, we want to deploy them where there is the most need. When they’re not responding to calls, we want to put them in areas where we’re seeing burglaries or car prowls or speeding, so they can track and assess that.”

The department adopted the CompStat philosophy in 2010, holding weekly meetings with prosecutors, probation agents and other partners in the judicial system to discuss crime trends.

The CompStat process is guided by four principles: accurate and timely intelligence, effective tactics, rapid deployment and relentless follow-up and assessment. The system is designed to hold managers accountable for performance by allowing them have greater flexibility in how they manage resources and deploy officers. Results are measured by ongoing trend analysis.

Wright said she believes the Comm-U-nity CompStat initiative is the first of its kind in the country. She spent nearly a year planning and researching before the September launch.

The meetings are intended to be short and simple, running no more than an hour. Police officers and other special guests typically give brief updates on their work before residents have an opportunity to voice concerns or ask questions. Attendees can also submit written questions and police will get back to them with an answer within three days.

“We’re kind of letting the community lead,” Wright said. “The meetings are what they want them to be.”

Gary Eckenberg has lived in Lincoln Park since 1975. The deputy St. Louis County administrator and former Duluth city councilor has been a regular attendee of the sessions.

Eckenberg is a proponent of reducing blight in the neighborhood. He pointed to the “broken window theory” — a criminology concept that explains how a single broken window can lead to wider neighborhood problems, particularly through vandalism.

“Having any kind of blight influences redevelopment and economic reinvestment in the neighborhood, so this program is something I wanted to be a part of,” Eckenberg said. “The program is really connecting residents with community policing in a way I haven’t seen before.”

Eckenberg sees Lincoln Park as a good fit for the program. He noted that it’s among Duluth’s oldest neighborhoods, with an aging house stock and a diminished business community.

“As a community, we’re really looking at ways to address our viability and spur reinvestment,” he said. “I’m happy this was chosen as the starting point.”

Wright said there was no particular reason that the program launched in Lincoln Park other than that it was a good place to start within her district. She said department administration has been supportive of the initiative, and she’s hopeful that it eventually will be adopted in other neighborhoods.

The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Lincoln Park Middle School auditorium.

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