Highlighting a difficult 2020 and an optimistic new year, the Detroit Lakes police and fire departments released their end-of-year reports to the City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
The reports come at the end of one of the most unique law enforcement years in recent memory due to the COVID-19 pandemic as both chiefs showed how their departments pivoted, and evolved, during the pandemic and laid out their departmental visions for 2021.
Police officers responded to 12,207 calls for service in 2020, more than 1,300 fewer calls than last year, according to the report.
Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steve Todd said one of the main reasons for the drop was because of fewer traffic stops due to less traffic on the roads during the pandemic and state stay-at-home orders.
More than 1,000 fewer traffic stops were made in 2020, which, Todd explained, was due to the decreased traffic on the roads due to the pandemic and officers being careful "to limit their potential COVID exposures."
"At the beginning of something like (the pandemic), you're not certain how it's going to unfold," he said. "We made schedule adjusts to try to limit cross exposure risks."
The officers went to 12-hour shifts, he said, and limited shift change operations. Also, he personally went to Menards almost every morning to buy whatever masks they got in so his team could be protected.
Todd also said the new police department facility, which the department will be moving to in April, will provide officers with more space to conduct their work and, due to its location across the street from the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center, he hopes to implement a new officer wellness program in 2021, which will focus on the physical, mental, financial and spiritual wellness of each of his officers.
In their current building, Todd said, someone could be filling out a report on the computer and, a few feet away, some officers could using the break room and socializing. Also, the investigative units are too close together currently, so officers may be trying to have phone conversations just a few feet apart, making too much noise to focus, leading to decreased efficiency.
"One of the things that I'm looking forward to is the building is being constructed with a meeting, or training, room right near the lobby," he said. "I envision that room will be able to be utilized by various service clubs in town, or the Boy Scouts...any type of a group that needed some meeting space...it'll further our relationship between our community members and our staff because they'll be meeting in our building."
Todd said he also expects to start having community conversations about implementing a body camera program for the department in the upcoming year. He said the cameras alone will cost about $35,000, but additional money will be needed for data storage and wireless download capability to ensure the data can be properly maintained.
"I think it's going to be an industry necessity in the coming years," he said. "They are an extensive proposition to do, and it's very complex for a number of reasons."
Todd said implementing a body camera policy will be a lengthy process with public, city-council style meetings, as per state law, and also the regulations are different for body cameras as opposed to dash-cam video.
"It's not something where I can just decide today, and get on the computer and order 18 body cameras and we're going to start using them tomorrow," said Todd. "It's lengthy process to vet them and look at the different brands, and what's compatible with the equipment we already have, and how much are we going to spend, and are we going to store the data on our own computer, or are we going to put it on the Cloud and then we have an ongoing expense forever, paying for Cloud service storage, there's just a lot of decisions to consider."
He also said he expects more train-the-trainer types of courses for his officers, so they can stay up to date on policing procedures and equipment. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many of the trainings are being canceled, or postponed, he said.
"We send officers to this train-the-trainer course and they come back to our department as instructors," said Todd. "They haven't actually gotten to the class, but I have approved them to go."
In 2020, city firefighters responded to 161 active incidents within the city and neighboring towns including: Detroit, Lake View and Erie Townships. Additionally, they provided mutual aid to emergency calls outside of their jurisdiction in White Earth, Frazee, Callaway, Lake Park, Wolf Lake, Shell Lake Township and Sugar Bush Township.
Firefighters logged 2,698 hours across all incidents during the year, according to the report.
"I'm extremely happy with our membership," said Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Ryan Swanson. "They always are responding to calls, showing up, being professional. They are just a great group of individuals and, honestly, it's just an honor to be the leader of them and be the voice for them when it comes to communicating with the city and working on stuff to try to better their jobs as well."
Firefighters have undergone weekly training, except during the first two months of Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home orders, making them more instinctual when they respond to calls, which are the reactions Swanson wants in his members, he said.
"We try to make our scenarios as realistic as possible," said Swanson. "We're constantly doing those drills and, obviously, it's to keep the members sharp so when the pager does go off, it's second nature to them."
The Detroit Lakes Fire Department has space for five additional team members on their roster, said Swanson. He also said the shift to a pay-per-hour structure, instead of pay-per-call, is a way to increase member retention and incentivize more applicants to apply.
"These members are your neighbor, your brother, your sister," said Swanson. "It's a great organization and a way to give back to your community, and yes, these individuals put a lot of time in to serve and protect, and at the end of the day, they really do it because they just really love this community."
He said the fire department conducts training and certification for all of their members, so, if anyone is looking for a way to serve the community, he encouraged them to apply through the city website.