By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Tuesday morning was business as usual for Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich. A full-scheduled day, including this interview, was completely rearranged by a medical emergency first thing in the morning.
Being on-call for town emergencies is just part of the job of a small-town law enforcement agency, and part of the challenge in maintaining a proactive police department for the City of Winsted.
In a survey done by the city last month, a 90 percent approval rating in emergency response time was given to both the Winsted police and fire departments by the citizens of Winsted.
Besides the quick response time on emergency calls, Henrich wants his officers to be skilled to help as much as possible when they get there.
He has required his officers to attend emergency medical technician (EMT) training, which is 125 hours of class time. They just finished last week.
Being trained as an EMT is a step up from the first aid or first responder training required to get a police officer’s license.
“We are usually the first ones at all accident scenes, and we are there at domestics when people are getting hurt. It only makes sense that when we get there, we can do more than wait for an ambulance. We are going to do our best and take the proactive approach,” Henrich said.
Henrich has been part of the Winsted Police Department for 29 years, becoming police chief in 1985.
“The hard part of covering a community such as Winsted is we are busy,” Henrich said. “We are busier then most of the towns around us. We have more industries, a lot of traffic and growth.”
With nearly double the population since he became a police officer for Winsted, Henrich’s duties, as well as those of his officers, have changed.
“When I first started, the sheriff’s office handled all the felonies. Now, we (Winsted Police Department) are working on a criminal sex, theft by swindle, felony by Internet. This isn’t going away,” Henrich said.
Domestic abuse cases are not only increasing and becoming more violent, the officer called to the scene has a number of duties that have to be performed in addition to making an arrest. A formal report has to be made, the officer is to gather evidence, take photos, and take statements from everyone involved.
When the statements are prepared, the officer has to go back to the victim and have the statements read and signed.
Sometimes the officer will go back to take photographs of the injuries after the bruising is more pronounced.
When a drunk driver is arrested today, the officers are trained in searching the vehicle and towing procedures.
An in-squad computer system leased from McLeod County has made the department’s job easier, but technology has also added to the officers’ workload. Investigating computer or cell phone harassments or other ways of committing crimes on the Internet has definitely had an impact on the number of hours needed in the day to solve crimes.
One incident Henrich talked about had someone from New York purchasing a product from Winsted.
After a certain amount of time, when the product had not been received by the individual living in New York, the Winsted Police Department was contacted.
“Their police department in New York was not helping them and they talked to us. The statute can go either way because it was an Internet crime and it actually made more sense to handle it here. The guy in Winsted paid back the money, and it never went to court,” Henrich said.
The youth in this area has been another issue that the Winsted Police Department has patiently worked with.
Just recently, there was an underage drinking party in Winsted with children who were 13, 14, and 15 years old. The parents were gone and the children took advantage of the situation.
“We are facing kids that are raising themselves,” Henrich said. “Are you old enough to be home when you are 13? Yes, you are. There is nothing illegal, but is it good? Not in my eyes. You still need parents to be accountable.”
There is a curfew in town for children under the age of 17. The curfew is to keep the younger crowd from cruising around late at night.
“Because there are only so many streets that you can drive in Winsted, kids get bored. I don’t think they set out to do things, like pulling tires out of Cafferty’s last summer,” Henrich said.
“We are pretty blessed with the kids in town. We have had a pretty good working relationship with our kids.”
Being proactive has the Winsted Police Department working to prevent crimes before they happen.
One simple way to keep the number of thefts down is by locking cars and homes up when leaving.
Another way to prevent crime will be through a neighborhood watch program.
Officer Dan Pohl will be taking crime prevention classes this week. After he completes the course, he will begin to work on starting up the watch program.
“Neighborhood watch is where you try to get different groups within your community to pay closer attention to their own neighborhood,” Henrich said.
What the department is hoping to find is one or two representatives from each of the neighborhoods.
The representatives would start a small group of their own neighbors who will organize and meet to discuss their own issues.
The watch program will be different then National Night Out where there is a large crowd that meets once a year at one location.
“We are going to see if we can go forward with this. We will start with small baby steps,” Henrich said. “You can only make people do what they want to do what they are comfortable with.”
Another way Henrich has worked to prevent crime is to work with businesses that are dealing with theft or vandalism.
An example is Casey’s where Henrich has received numerous calls regarding people driving off without paying for their gas.
Henrich has suggested Casey’s require gas be prepaid to prevent drive offs.
“In general, cops and some communities go after the burglars after they have burglarized the place. To me, it makes more sense to get Casey’s to not be a victim of crime. Being proactive, rather than reactive.”
Henrich said one of the reasons he is able to be proactive is because there are three other officers on staff besides himself.
“Just to cover the general patrol, where you have someone out there working 24/7, takes four people.”
International Police Chief’s Association’s formula and Winsted statistics, including the number of calls made and the types of calls, indicates six officers are needed to cover a community the size of Winsted.
Henrich knows that getting two more officers is not going to happen, but going down to three officers would really be difficult.
“Put us back to three officers, we would have to be reactive. We would have to start prioritizing what is important and what isn’t,” Henrich said.
“I learned a long time ago, what is important to you, may not be important to me.”