Is community policing enough in Rochester?

Andy Kilen has a window into Rochester crime. For about 20 years, Kilen has volunteered at the Olmsted County Jail. He directs Next Chapter Ministries — an organization that gives about 100 offenders a place to transition from jail to the outside world.

Kilen has seen over the past year how Rochester’s police chief, Roger Peterson, defined crime as a “serious problem” but wanted to emphasize prevention through community policing. To that end, last November, Rochester Police Department created a new unit – the Community Action Team – that focuses on specific crime hot spots or problem areas of the city.

Kilen praises the Rochester Police and the Olmsted Sheriffs Deparmtent for doing “a great job of catching criminals and locking them up.”

But he says community involvement in policing isn’t enough. From his standpoint, the community must get involved in the lives of the potential criminals, more specifically, the children of offenders:

“Children who have had a parent incarcerated are far more likely to go to jail or prison. I have heard that it’s as high as seven out of 10 children with an incarcerated parent who will themselves be incarcerated at some point. A majority of inmates have children. If the community is going to be safer, residents of the community will need to be involved in solving the problem of crime beyond being angry about it.”

To Kilen, the fiction about crime in Rochester is that stepped-up policing alone will solve the problem.

MPR News and the Rochester Post-Bulletin plan on holding a forum at the Mayo Civic Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 1. The conversation will aim at the fact and fiction around crime. Kilen, who will attend the gathering, gave his answer to MPR through the Public Insight Network.

Others in the area have also contributed insight about what they consider the myths and facts surrounding Rochester and public safety:

Sherry Jester

A mother and a retired pediatrician who lives just outside the city limits.

“(T)here is very little knowledge about the gang activity and drug activity in the greater Rochester community amongst the public. (When asked what a Rochester crime fiction might be, she said) Many people (at least among my peers) consider Rochester to be more dangerous than it actually is. I have lived in several communities with much higher crime rates including: Detroit suburbs, Atlanta, Richmond, Virginia. Rochester is a very safe community in my opinion. I have no reservations about visiting any area of town. I do use reasonable caution when visiting areas where I have some concerns.”

Michele Blesken

A conflict resolution consultant who lives in Rochester.

“Perception is that there is more crime with the recent years of drive-by shootings in the (northwest) neighborhoods. Yet out Police Chief indicated that crime is not rising and recommended that we spend our public dollars on prevention including early childhood education versus more police on the street. The Rochester city council overturned the Chief’s recommendations and instead allocated municipal dollars for new police officers. To their credit the community members that did attend city council meetings made a big stink about public safety and the need to increase the police force to protect what they perceived as increase crime in their neighborhoods.”

Diane Hellie

A software engineer who lives in northwest Rochester.

“(Crime in Rochester is) less than most places but we have some problems with gangs. In general the response to public safety concerns is good. I have heard gunshots in my neighborhood twice in the past few years and there have been several murders in NW Rochester. I prefer seeing more emphasis on preventing crime and helping youth so they exceed in school, etc. and have opportunities other than crime.”

If you are from Rochester, what can you add to this conversation about crime, fact and fiction? Also, let us know if you could participate in our Feb. 1 forum at the Mayo Civic Center.

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