In my nine months on the job as a Three Rivers Commissioner, I’ve tried to tour as many parks as I can and learn from the staff who make our parks the fun, clean and safe places they are. Of all the experiences I’ve had in the parks so far, one of the highlights for me has been the opportunity to participate in a ride-along with Public Safety Sgt. Heidi Speak.
Before I went on the ride-along, I thought of Three Rivers Public Safety much like a city police department. There are similarities – our department includes licensed peace officers who perform the same job duties as other law enforcement personnel. But I found it fascinating that effective policing in the park district requires unique patrol strategies.
For starters, there is the large geographic area that the park district comprises. Even a large city like Maple Grove is contained within a six-mile by six-mile area. Contrast that with the park district, which includes nearly 27,000 acres of land spread throughout the suburbs of Minneapolis as well as more than 125 miles of regional trails.
With that much ground to cover, it’s critical for public safety to use a variety of specialized patrol methods. If you’re out in the parks or on the trails, you might see public safety patrolling on a bike, on foot, on cross-country skis, or riding a horse, ATV, boat or snowmobile. In fact, our force is the oldest continuous mounted patrol unit in the upper Midwest.
We use a strategy of predictive policing. By combining statistics with knowledge of our park system, the department is able to efficiently reduce crime incidences. The efforts have helped keep costs stable while keeping the parks safe. This patrol strategy is paying off. For proof, just glance at the department’s crime statistics. In 2012, the number of crimes committed in the Park District dropped by more than 55 percent compared to 2007 (655 crimes in 2007 compared to 340 last year). Of those, 340 incidents (65 percent) were cleared by our department – an impressive statistic considering that most crimes committed in the park district are property crimes for which there are no witnesses.
Another question often asked is, “Why do you see Three Rivers police outside of the parks?” Our police engage in many mutual aid partnerships in order to avoid duplication of police services, such as dispatch, emergency response and trail coverage. Our police are regional experts in search and rescue and participate in several searches each year. Having great partnerships is not only positive for our park system, but also for taxpayers’ pocketbooks.
Ride-alongs with Three Rivers police are available for any resident who is interested. Additionally, last spring public safety held its first-ever citizens academy. The 23 graduates experienced driver training, first-aid training, scenario simulations and firearms training. They also learned how public safety approaches its role in keeping the parks safe via an educate-first mindset. For more information about scheduling a ride-along or future Citizens Academy sessions, call 763-694-7730.
Jennifer DeJournett is in her first term as Commissioner for District 2 of the Three Rivers Parks District. District 2 includes Brooklyn Park, Champlin, Dayton, Maple Grove and Osseo. Contact her at [email protected]