Don Heinzman column: Police department develops relationships in Bloomington
When a Bloomington Police officer conducts a traffic stop, chances are it could be an understandable one, thanks to a new effort to reach out to residents to enhance communication and demonstrate that officers are approachable.
That’s the aim of Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts, who is hoping residents gain a better understanding of his officers and the challenges they face.
His outreach is appearing to pay off because the number of crimes in Bloomington was down almost 10 percent from 2014 to 2015.
Potts and his officers are familiar with residents through all kinds of strategies, including 350 organized neighborhood groups with whom they communicate regularly.
Many neighbors not only recognize their officers, but they tip them off when anything suspicious occurs. They also understand the tough job of being an officer and the challenges it has presented more recently.
During the National Night Out in August, police, fire and EMTs visited 347 events throughout the city.
Recently 20 officers volunteered at a Safe Night Out where they served hot dogs and chips and played games with children in the Valley View Elementary School neighborhood. Potts was in the line serving hot dogs.
At a Bakers Square restaurant in Bloomington, officers met residents over a cup of coffee. Several residents thanked them for saving lives of their loved ones through quick action. Potts, who mingled with them, said residents were meeting officers “one cup at a time.”
Because Bloomington has a growing number of Latinos, African-Americans and other minorities, Potts has organized a Multicultural Advisory Committee. He meets with the group monthly and hears advice on how to handle cases involving minorities.
All 118 sworn officers are also taking classes in de-escalating confrontations. They are learning how to assist people troubled with trauma, stress and mental problems, rather than leaving that up to someone else and quickly leaving on another call.
Potts is proud of the cooperation he’s having with Edina, Eden Prairie and the Metropolitan Airport Commission police with the creation of the South Metro Public Safety Training Facility, located in Edina, where soon there will be a 100-seat classroom space for enhanced learning.
In addition to his regular force, Potts utilizes community service officers who assist in events.
Residents interested in more up-close police work can attend a police academy. Contact the academy at 952-763-4900 to learn more about that opportunity.
With all of this activity in the state’s fifth largest city of 85,000 people, you’d think Potts has a full plate. But every Monday at noon he attends the Rotary Club meeting where this year he is the club president, leading a club full of community leaders.
He will continue the club’s STRIVE program where members teach life skills to a select number of high school students. One of the former students intends to be a Bloomington Police officer.
Potts had second thoughts about taking that time-consuming position, but it’s consistent with what he’s trying to do to bring the police department and the community together, which is good for his officers and the community.
Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers.