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Duluth officers to increase focus on community policing

The Duluth Police Department will see a significant shift in its community policing efforts beginning next year. The department plans to reassign two of its community police officers to the patrol division, the first step in eventually bringing t...

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Gordon Ramsay
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The Duluth Police Department will see a significant shift in its community policing efforts beginning next year.

The department plans to reassign two of its community police officers to the patrol division, the first step in eventually bringing the community policing and patrol operations under one umbrella, Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said.

The change is brought on at least partially because of an ever-increasing number of police calls, which have placed extreme demands on patrol and extreme demands on patrol officers, Ramsay said.

But Duluth residents and business owners shouldn't fear that they will see a diminished relationship with their local officers, according to the chief.

"Our community policing program is evolving," Ramsay said. "Rather than just having a specialized unit, it's going to be department-wide. We're going to start integrating community policing and have the expectation of patrol officers to do problem-solving."

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Community-oriented policing, a strategy that focuses on establishing ties between officers and the citizens they serve, came to prominence in the United States in the 1990s. Ramsay, who worked as a Central Hillside community officer early in his career, has been an adamant supporter of the initiative.

But those efforts aren't as effective when handled by only a few officers, he said.

"If you look at the overall evolution of community policing, that was the plan from the '90s: to have everybody doing it, and not just a specialized unit," he said. "It needs to be spread out department-wide, and we're evolving into that."

For the time being, Duluth will maintain its full force of downtown community officers, along with two officers on both the east and west sides of town. But those positions, too, are expected to eventually be merged with patrol operations.

Ramsay, in a recent post in his online " Chief's Blog ," noted that the Duluth Police Department's staffing levels are similar to those of the 1970s. However, the department has gone from handing about 30,000 cases a year to more than 100,000 last year, he said.

Transferring the two community officers to patrol will help "beef up" those operations, he said. But it comes with some added responsibilities for current patrol officers.

Going forward, every officer will be assigned to work in a particular area, based on the city's 34 voter precincts. When they're not responding to calls, officers will be expected to embrace the community policing philosophy and work closely with residents and business owners.

Ramsay acknowledged it would be a change for some officers who have worked exclusively in patrol.

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"The expectation is that it goes to the patrol officers to do more," he said.

That philosophy, Ramsay said, will be engrained in future classes of recruits. That includes seven new members who are expected to be sworn in this week.

Related Topics: POLICE
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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