NSP Police Department rolls out new community policing map

Officer Joe Friedrichs oversees northern districts 1-3, along with officer Jesse Barnes. He joined the department after serving as a police officer in Roseville for seven months, where he worked as a firefighter prior. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Officer Joe Friedrichs oversees northern districts 1-3, along with officer Jesse Barnes. He joined the department after serving as a police officer in Roseville for seven months, where he worked as a firefighter prior. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Police officers will serve as the main point-of-contact for residents and business owners in their assigned districts. Residents are encouraged to contact officers directly to report any safety concerns. (submitted graphic)
Police officers will serve as the main point-of-contact for residents and business owners in their assigned districts. Residents are encouraged to contact officers directly to report any safety concerns. (submitted graphic)
At the request of neighborhood watch groups, the police department ordered window stickers to help give the groups more visibility. Residents are welcome to stop by the police department to pick one up for free. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
At the request of neighborhood watch groups, the police department ordered window stickers to help give the groups more visibility. Residents are welcome to stop by the police department to pick one up for free. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)

Officers assigned to neighborhood districts

Police officer Joe Friedrichs has only been with the North St. Paul police department for seven months, but he's already making headway in his assigned district, along the north side, stymieing local crime.

When a concerned resident asked Friedrichs to help address suspicious traffic in their neighborhood, he made himself available around the clock to help address the issue.

Together, they tracked license plate numbers and built a case against the suspected burglar, who ended up being arrested.

"I probably had three or four phone calls and probably six or seven email correspondence," he said of the partnership with the resident. "And I stopped at her house one day, just to shake hands."

Elements of this integrated approach to policing have long existed in the community, namely through existing neighborhood watch groups. But the North St. Paul police department is currently rolling out a more defined community policing initiative with an emphasis on policing districts and crime-free multi housing.

'More all-encompassing'

North St. Paul Police Captain Dustin Nikituk has been working closely with the rest of the department, as well as city staff, to implement a district-based vision of community policing.

In a nutshell, it's about "breaking down the barriers between the community and the police," he said.

Building familiarity through consistency, he explained, is key to breaking down these barriers. In order to establish stronger report between citizens and police officers, the department devised a 16-district map and assigned officers to each. They've been instructed to share the contact information at ease, so residents and business owners can follow up with them directly on any safety concerns or crime tips.  

"We’ve always had community policing within our agency and it's involved many different aspects over the years," Nikituk said, listing bike patrol, motorcycle implementation and crime watch groups as precursors to the new mapping effort.

"Now it's more all-encompassing. With our new staffing levels, we're able to do it more efficiently and effectively."

With a recent wave of new-hires, the North St. Paul police department employs 17 law enforcement officials, including Nikituk and Police Chief Tom Lauth. Seven of these officers have served in North St. Paul for less than a year.

But all the swearing-in ceremonies of late could be a bit deceiving. As a smaller agency, Nikituk explained, they have turnover with young officers looking to move on to larger agencies once they gain some experience.

In order to fully rebound to past staffing levels, he said they're looking to hire two additional officers this year.

With the new community policing initiative in place, North St. Paul may be the perfect place for officers to gain experience quickly.

"It’s really [about] decentralizing decision making," Nikituk said. "Essentially, the officers run their own shift, run their own neighborhood groups. So it really brings forth leadership within the department."

In Friedrichs' experience, the four-month-old policing districts have granted him greater ownership and fast-tracked his success at building relationships with those he serves.

"I really enjoy the smaller department, getting a chance to get involved in all aspects of the department," he said. "Being a smaller community, you get to know the individuals, the business, on a more personal level."

Establishing relations, accountability

Close to a quarter of North St. Paul's residents are non-white, according to the last U.S. Census — a level of diversity that Nikituk feels the police department compliments.  

"As our community dynamics change, it really helps to reflect that with the officers that are policing the community," he said.

While unarmed suspect fatalities across the nation continue to raise new concerns about race relations in local law enforcement agencies, North St. Paul police are honing in on a separate concern: addressing crime rates within its transient population.  

The department sent some officers to attend a crime-free multi housing training and assigned officers Tami Larsen and Amberkae DeCory to work directly with this population to both keep them up to speed on important safety information and better integrate them into the community.

"Historically, it’s an area within the community that's kind of disconnected and we’re really trying to [get] that portion of the community to be involved," Nikituk said.

The two officers have been reaching out to those in apartment complexes, bringing them information on police reports and working with management and residents to hold problematic individuals accountable.

Given the high percentage of rental units in the city, their efforts could greatly impact the overall safety of the community. Currently, 29 percent of all local housing units are occupied by renters, according to city records.

Since one of the guiding principal behind building safer communities is simply getting to know your neighbors, the police department relies heavily on the volunteer efforts of local neighborhood watch groups and their block captains.

"For the most part, crime is a thing of anonymity and when you take that away, crime goes down," Nikituk said, paying tribute to the local watch groups he and his officers have been collaborating with for close to a decade.

Through the simple act of organizing a community email list serve, used to circulate safety concerns and expedite communication between neighborhoods and police, these groups have already been making a difference.

Watch captain Teri Perron got involved with this grassroots initiative after a series of burglaries hit her neighborhood.

She and Phyllis Connor serve as liaisons for residents of the southwest corner of the Silver Lake area, bringing them hyper-local safety updates and spearheading independent safety project, like getting more street light installed.

Asked what she thinks of the new policing districts, she said, "The import thing is that you're getting to know the officers. They're not as bad as people think they are. Wave when they go by and get to know them. I think it's a really good idea that you're assigned a police officer and you get to know them."

With the hopes of warmer weather ahead, Friedrichs anticipates he'll get to know the people he's serving as they get outside to mow their lawns.

"With spring around the corner, it’ll give us an opportunity to really get to know the individuals in the community," he said.

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.


Ways to take a stand against local crime

• Stop by City Hall and pick up a free “Neighborhood Watch” window sticker from the police department.
• Contact your assigned community police officer about starting a neighborhood watch group, or join one that already exists. Also inquire about block parties held during the summer.
• Get to know your NSP police officers by participating in National Night Out on Aug. 4, or the NSPPD Torch Run in June.

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