Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, April 5, 1999

Crime down nationally and in Winsted

By Luis Puga

Winsted is enjoying the same decrease in crime that the nation is, and this explains the drop in some areas in the Winsted Police Department's 1998 annual report.

This is according to Police Chief Mike Henrich, who said that the McLeod County is showing the same decrease.

However, Henrich added the experts are predicting a change in this trend.

Specific age groups have larger populations. Within those age groups, there is an assumed percentage that will commit crime. A larger population in certain age groups will mean a larger possible percentage of crimes committed.

Overall, Winsted is benefiting from the national downturn. However, some of the decrease in crime isn't just because of trend, but because of work done by the police department.

For instance, bad checks are down considerably from 1997. The went from a little over 100 in 1997 to less than 60 in 1998.

Henrich said that this is an issue his department has been concentrating on this past year. He said that the department is aggressive on bad checks, and even $5-$6 checks have been taken to court.

Some individuals who pass bad checks do this habitually and Henrich wants to send a message that the city won't tolerate it.

Pursuing these individuals has also taken cooperation from the business community in Winsted. Henrich said that it helps when businesses take information from driver's licenses with the check so that officers can collect on the check if needed. Without that information, tracking down a bounced check might not be possible.

One area where police activity has increased is assists.

The term, explains Henrich, is a little misleading, because it not only includes assists to other agencies, but also help to the public.

In this area, Henrich said his department is working on the preventive side of law enforcement.

This includes going to small businesses, schools, or organization to give talks.

He called it community policing, and said, "For the most part, a police department is as effective as its citizens allows it to be. Without people coming and telling us who did what and what's going on, we're inept."

By reaching out to the citizens, the officers are more effective because they learn who to talk to in a situation. Also, community members, such as teens, feel more comfortable talking to the police.

DUIs (driving under the influence) were down in 1998.

Henrich said that the downturn is probably due to more bars taking responsibility for their patrons. "Plus, people themselves are taking the time to get a designated driver. Those are good things," said Henrich.

Another area that showed a decrease was accidents. Henrich said this downturn may not be due so much to his department's policing efforts, but rather just weather.

Weather may also influence numbers as speeding, where the report indicated 79 incidents. Henrich said that Linden Avenue has become notorious for speeding and this simply may be due to the fact that the road is in such good condition.

The one problem that is up from 1997 is dog complaints. Henrich smiles with a hint of frustration saying that its part of the city's growth.

The complaints range from noise to loose dogs, and Henrich adds that the city will always have to deal with county dogs - dogs from outside the city limits that enter town.

Like anything else, Henrich said that there are certain dogs who cause a majority of the problems. The real fault, however, lies with the owners who don't tend to their pets properly.

The report also provides a picture of how the officers split up their time. A great deal of time is spent on paper work. Henrich said the department is making more of an effort to document its activities.

In the future, the department will attempt to coordinate some record keeping with the county, tying into its computer system. This should hopefully free the officers up for more policing.

Many of the calls that officers go out on are medical. Henrich notes that maybe three years ago, the area's departments weren't trained in this area, but now each full-time officer has emergency medical technician (EMT) training. He believes this is great service for the community.

As for the city as a whole, Henrich said, Winsted is still very much a small town. He does warn that he has seen Winsted grow over the years and that citizens should be aware of the changes that come with growth.

He notes that people can't take such a carefree attitude with their cars and should lock them, at least at night. He said such measures are just part of the growing pains of a city.

Henrich also warns consumers to be careful using the Internet and receiving telemarketing.

Particularly, he sites the Internet as a growing source of crime and warns people to take the information they receive there carefully. As for telemarketers, the best way to avoid a scam is to get it in writing.

Henrich said that his favorite part of his work is dealing with people and helping them.

He also is grateful to officer Gary Schott who put the annual report together. The report, which has been available since February, is available upon request.

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