Do Duluth and Superior apply community-oriented policing?

November 16, 2016

Jennifer Martin-Romme
Zenith News

Here’s how our local police departments stack up to the Justice Department’s elements of community-oriented policing. Superior quotes are from Assistant Chief Matt Markon; Duluth quotes are from Public Information Officer Ron Tinsley.


Superior Police Department

Civilian oversight: Wisconsin requires every municipality to have a Police and Fire Review Commission, but Markon describes Superior’s commission as inactive and not in any oversight role, although he notes that Wisconsin statute allows for a civilian oversight committee.

Focus on conflict resolution: “Not really. Policing is so much more about solving the situation right then and there, not so much about getting the parties to get along.”

Officer accessibility: Officers have business cards and public voice mail, but not public cell phones or pagers. “If people know they could reach you at any time, they would never stop calling...Also, people leave voice mails and messages on our Facebook page about emergencies in progress. They need to be calling 911.”

Random foot patrols: No. Douglas County is too spread out and Superior officers don’t have that kind of time.

Residency: Officers have long-term beat assignments, but no requirement that they live within their beat or department jurisdiction. There are no substations.

Community events (in non-law enforcement capacity): National Night Out. Otherwise, as requested.

Spending more time on calls: No. That would require hiring more officers and Markon is not convinced it’s a good use of their time if it is not furthering investigative work or if more pressing calls are backing up.

Community participation (in a law enforcement capacity): Only as requested.

SARA Method: Not used formally.

Replacing military command structure with employer-employee relationship: “I think that would be foolish...It shows who’s above you in rank. If my supervisor tells me something, my only answer is, ‘Yes, sir.’” Given the “Type A personalities” in law enforcement, Markon says a military command structure is necessary to maintain order and to make sure that commands are followed without argument. “Yeah, it’s militaristic, but it needs to be.”

Submitting police tactics to peer-reviewed research: Cost-prohibitive. “Give us more money and we’ll hire people to do that!”

Crime Harm Index: Markon describes it as a “shell game” that actually hides information from the public. “Unless you’ve got a serial killer, murder is a single event and, chances are, [victim and perpetrator] know each other. Once you take that one person off the street, you’re not going to have another murder for a long time [in a town the size of Superior].”

Data reporting: Use-of-force is tracked internally, but not reported elsewhere. Crime statistics are reported to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Markon believes that a civilian fatality at the hands of police would be reported somewhere, but he’s not sure where.

Partnership with universities to study data: The department recently partnered with the University of Wisconsin’s Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) program, to study the intersection of chemical dependency and crime.

Ruling out alternative explanations for high-volume calls: A program called “CompStat” analyzes type of crime by neighborhood. For example, if CompStat shows that one neighborhood has a rash of burglaries, the department engages with that neighborhood to see if there is sufficient street lighting, to encourage residents to lock their doors, and to look for other contributing factors, such as overgrown foliage in which a burglar might hide.


Duluth Police Department

Civilian oversight: A Citizen Review Board began in 2012, but it has no authority and limited access to records.

Focus on conflict resolution: “We emphasize it. Regardless, that’s fairly simple. If [a call] doesn’t fit the criteria for an arrest, then it goes to conflict resolution.”

Officer accessibility: Officers have business cards, but cell phones follow the patrol car, not the officer (exceptions for specialized duty). Pagers are outdated.

Random foot patrols: Unclear. Instead, Tinsley took issue with the idea of a “routine” call. “There’s no such thing. Every call is different. It all depends on the call.”

Residency: Officers have permanent beat assignments and used to be required to live within 30 miles of Duluth, but “they’ve gotten pretty lax about that.” There are three substations—downtown and in East and West Duluth.

Community events (in non-law enforcement capacity): Numerous, including sports teams, Kids Cars & Cops, and buying Christmas gifts for underprivileged children. “If you do any research about our department, we are involved in the community more than other agencies.”

Spending more time on calls: Officers are not reprimanded for spending time on a call, and the department is planning to add more officers to make this easier.

Community participation (in a law enforcement capacity): Mostly as requested. The Community Intervention Group is a multidisciplinary approach to finding long-term solutions for residents struggling with homelessness, chemical dependency, and mental illness. This year, the department employed a social worker.

SARA Method: Applied informally.

Replacing military command structure with an employer-employee relationship: “If people understood police tactics, they would not want to abandon the military structure. Here’s the reality: The chief of police is Mike [Tusken] to me. But he’s the chief. Same with sergeants. Like with tactical teams, there’s a need for that. There are people with more high-powered weapons [than police].”

Submitting police tactics to peer-reviewed research: “I’m really having a problem with these questions. People who ask these questions know nothing about policing.”

Crime Harm Index: No. Tinsley, too, felt that reporting the crime rate by weighting crimes in this manner would amount to withholding information from the public.

Data reporting: “I can’t answer that. I’m really having a problem with this whole thing. This isn’t usually how we do interviews.”

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