By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie Police Chief Bob Carlson said his is a proactive police department involved in community-oriented policing services.
The department focusses on education and working with other community organizations to prevent crime and reduce unsafe behavior.
The department employs three full-time police officers and three active part-time police officers.
The full-time police officers donated 46 hours ($851) above their normal 2,080 hours worked last year. They also donated 1,064 hours of emergency on-call time in 2009.
Part-time officers worked an average of seven shifts a month. Part-time officers are needed to fill in for vacations, training, special summer shifts and sick time. The part-time officers have also been used for special activities (i.e. Prairie Days, citizens academy and the bicycle rodeo) and emergencies such as barricaded subjects and suicides.
Carlson is responsible for the administration of the department. He works a regular patrol shift during the day, teach Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) (fifth and eighth grade) during the school year, serves as the school liaison officer, and works with the city council and city department heads to help the city work efficiently and effectively.
Carlson is president of the McLeod County Chiefs of Police Association, and serves on the Lester Prairie Community Task Force, Student Assessment Team (LP School), and the McLeod Domestic Violence Task Force.
“I am proud to say we have worked on and received several grants this year that have helped keep equipment and other costs down,” Carlson said.
Carlson attempts to have office hours from 9 a.m. to noon when he is not at the school.
Carlson said he prefers to receive complaints and concerns by phone, but e-mail can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Officer Mark Thiry is the department’s senior police officer, with more than nine years of service to the city.
Thiry is in charge of the Safe and Sober Challenge Program and is the department’s firearms and TASER instructor.
Under Thiry’s direction, the Lester Prairie Police Department received the second place award for the 2009 Minnesota Safe and Sober Challenge, which included a $2,000 grant. The department will use the money for extra hours of traffic enforcement.
The department previously won the first place award in 2005 and 2006, and second place in 2007 and 2008.
Officer Preston Voigt joined the department in 2009 and is its newest police officer. He is in charge of the crime prevention detail and is the fire department liaison.
Voigt organized the city’s National Night Out activities in 2009, and the highlights can be seen on the city web site.
Voigt works a regular night patrol shift.
Highlights from 2009
Carlson said the most serious investigation that took place in 2009 was a fatality accident that occurred June 17.
“The accident involved a passenger car that failed to yield to a semi tractor as it was leaving a business,” Carlson said. “An elderly couple walking was struck by the vehicle and the wife survived, but, the husband did not. The driver of the car was charged with careless driving.”
Another serious incident took place Aug. 5.
“Jonah Ezra Polo attempted to take his own life and also attempted to take the life of Officer Mark Thiry,” Carlson said. “As Officer Thiry was entering the residence, Polo attempted to use a knife on the officer. Polo asked Thiry to shoot him, but, Thiry used his TASER and was able to apprehend Polo without using his firearm.”
Thiry received an office commendation award for his heroic actions.
The amount of violent and victim crimes is down from previous years,” Carlson said. The department responded to six domestic disturbances in 2009, 10 in 2008, 23 in 2007 and 20 in 2006. It also conducted 11 assault investigations in 2009, 10 in 2008, 15 in 2007 and nine in 2006.
“The number of narcotics cases is down from previous years, but, it doesn’t mean the drug problem is eliminated in Lester Prairie,” Carlson commented. “We have supplied intelligence information to the Southwest Metro Drug Task Force about narcotic activity in Lester Prairie which led to arrests and search warrants in neighboring towns.”
“We are very proud of our proactive policing efforts as we presented programs that were designed to protect our citizens from crime and educate them about the activities of the police department,” Carlson said.
These activities include fifth grade and junior high DARE, bicycle safety, use of 911 and “stranger danger,” and Cub Scout presentations.
This will be the department’s ninth year of participating in the “cards for kids program.” The Minnesota Crime Prevention Association distributes Minnesota sports cards to member law enforcement agencies. The cards have crime prevention tips on the back. The cards are used as a positive contact with children in the community.
Carlson said one of his biggest challenges was the direct result of the economy and local government aid cuts.
“We continue to tighten our belts and figure out ways to provide programs to the public while reducing the costs,” Carlson said. “Since I am a taxpayer of the community, I don’t want to see an increase in taxes to make up for the loss of local government aid.”
Carlson said that, as the result of unemployment, wage freezes and financial issues, alcohol use and mental health issues continue to be a problem. The department investigated 14 mental health or detoxification (serious overage of alcohol consumption) holds last year.
Carlson said the second largest problem is maintaining the appearance of the community. The department had only 19 blight and junk investigations in 2009. Carlson said the number is down because most of the complaints involved foreclosure properties, and attempting to criminally charge the property owners was very difficult, so, the city assessed the cleanup to the properties.
The department received many complaints about junk automobiles, piles of garbage, and “unkept” properties, and sent notices to the property owners. It also sent several through the court system where a judge ordered them to clean up their property.
The third largest problem, according to Carlson, is animal complaints, including habitual barking dogs, dogs at large, and stray or abandoned cats. The Lester Prairie Police Department impounded eight dogs and a “handful” of cats in 2009, 22 of both in 2008 and 13 of both in 2007.
“We have issued citations for continual animal problems,” Carlson said. “We never issue a citation on the first violation, but, after several complaints we have no choice.”
In 2009 the police department investigated several felony thefts, gross misdemeanor thefts and misdemeanor thefts. The thefts include identity theft, Internet theft and issuance of dishonored checks (“bad checks”).
“I usually check the suspects of these thefts to find out if they are on probation, and almost 75 percent are repeat offenders,” Carlson commented.
The number of total arrests (taken to detention or jail) was 59 in 2007, 58 in 2008 and 24 in 2009.
The department made 18 arrests for DUI or underage drinking and driving in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In 2009 the department had only seven arrests for these offenses.
The department issued a total of 225 citations, an average of less than one citation per day. There were 598 verbal warnings for traffic or other violations of law or ordinances.
“I am very proud of the work we have done and love the community and city council I work for.” Carlson said. “If I have ever needed anything to protect our community the city has never turned me down.”
New ways to report crimes are available
Carlson said he is very excited about a new affiliation that will make it easy for residents to report crimes anonymously in a variety of new ways.
The Lester Prairie Police Department has joined with Crime Stoppers of Minnesota to increase the ways that citizens can anonymously pass on information to help solve crimes.
In addition to staying anonymous, persons giving tips may be eligible to collect up to $1,000 in reward money.
Tips may be turned in by a toll-free phone call, on the Internet, or by text messaging from a cell phone, all supplied and maintained by Crime Stoppers of Minnesota.
Through this partnership, the Lester Prairie Police Department will receive tips that Crime Stoppers collects through its systems.
Some citizens may be reluctant to step forward to get involved directly with the police, but they may still want to do the right thing.
Police departments gain the ability to have tips connect directly to the Crime Stoppers of Minnesota web tip form by putting a hot link on their department’s web site.
People with knowledge about a crime or a fugitive can volunteer tips to Crime Stoppers by calling (800) 222-TIPS (8477), going online at www.crimestoppersmn.org, or by texting on a cell phone TIP674, plus a message send to CRIMES (274637).
Crime Stoppers’ procedures accept tips in any language by the phone. and in English, Spanish or French on the Internet. The tipster can still remain anonymous from law enforcement or anyone else. If the tip leads to an arrest or charging the tipster may qualify to receive a reward of up to $1,000 and still remain anonymous.