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Duluth police revamp public outreach efforts

Ingrid Hornibrook

The Duluth Police Department has begun a new era in its public outreach efforts.

Ingrid Hornibrook was hired this month as the first civilian public information officer in the department's 148-year history.

In the newly created role, she is responsible for developing relationships with the community, serving as a liaison to the news media and managing the department's social media presence, among other duties.

Hornibrook said she's looking forward to the challenge of communicating information about critical incidents as well as day-to-day activities of the department in what can be a high-stress environment.

"I'm basically going to be attached at the hip to the chief for the next year," she joked. "That's what we've agreed to. And that's to make sure the most important information that the public needs to know does get out and in the right way."

Hornibrook's responsibilities in recent years were handled by a number of sworn officers, all of whom had other law enforcement duties. But Police Chief Mike Tusken wanted to turn that into a full-time civilian position since he took over in 2016.

Hornibrook has worked in other roles with the city of Duluth for nearly four years after an earlier career in marketing and journalism. Tusken said those qualities stood out in the field of nearly 40 candidates who applied for the position.

"In police work, sometimes you miss those compelling stories in the day-to-day work that we do," he said. "It's not always the big things that people like to hear but things that are a little more mundane to us. She'll have a different perspective of someone who's not entrenched in police work and see things from a different angle."

Hornibrook grew up in tiny Milan, Minn., in the southwestern portion of the state. She first moved to the Northland to attend the University of Minnesota Duluth, where she graduated with a degree in communication in 2005.

She spent the next nine years in the Twin Cities, doing marketing work for a variety of business clients and starting a freelance writing business in 2012.

Around the winter of 2013-14, Hornibrook said she started looking for a way back to Duluth. Lacking a plan for employment, housing and other necessities, she started documenting her journey on a blog that was picked up by Destination Duluth.

The plan came to fruition when then-Mayor Don Ness hired her as a community relations officer in 2015, his final year in office. The next year, she moved to the city's Business and Economic Development Department as an information specialist.

Hornibrook said the creation of the police department position fit the qualities of her ideal job, combining public service and communication. She was asked to describe her objectives in establishing the new role.

"The choice to have someone in this role as a civilian PIO was an intentional choice, to ensure that the information shared is coming from a more relatable voice to the public and that the information and the stories that the public wants to hear get shared," she said. "So a big goal I have for this position is to share the story of our police department and the fact that they are dedicated community public servants and that they care about this town more than anything."

As the mother of young twin girls, Hornibrook said she was a bit nervous about the nature of some of the department's work, such as child-abuse cases. But she said she has found her first few weeks on the job to be a rewarding experience.

"Hearing about that kind of icky stuff in a room full of people who have dedicated their lives to fix those problems — and they can do something about it and they want to do something about it and they're trying to do something about it — it actually felt very comforting, and not nearly as scary as I thought it was going to be."