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Police report shows more gang activity

When the Alexandria Police Department moves into its new facility next year, it'll be busy - if the current trends in crime continue.

Police officers responded to 15,447 calls for service in 2009, according to an annual report that Chief Rick Wyffels presented to the Alexandria City Council recently.

Types of calls included:

•255 domestic violence incidents.

•719 car accidents.

•65 burglaries.

•70 assaults.

•113 felony arrests.

•104 gross misdemeanor arrests.

•821 misdemeanor arrests.

•3,989 traffic stops.

•138 drunk driving arrests.

•70 drug-related arrests.

The drug crimes are showing a pattern, Wyffels said.

"Incidents involving meth, cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs are escalating," Wyffels told the council. "There's more abuse."

The police department is also seeing more gang-related activity, the chief said.

"There are active gangs in our area and these folks aren't afraid to tell you their affiliation," Wyffels said, adding that his department won't back down on gang-related conduct.

Another crime category that keeps police busy is monitoring sex offenders.

Right now, there are 36 active sex offenders living in Alexandria and about the same number are living in the county, Wyffels said.

The police department has developed an in-house mechanism to track and account for the offenders on a regular basis, he said.

"We continually assess, monitor and verify the status and activities involving all the registered sex offenders in the community," Wyffels said. "We make sure we make proper notification to the citizens under state law."

The department continues to keep the community safe even while facing the challenges of budget cuts and short staffing, Wyffels said. Alexandria is also growing, through annexation and an increasing population, he added.

In 2009, the department was budgeted to hire two new officers but had to back away from the plan when the state made cuts to local government aid, the chief said.

The department also experienced a $20,000 cut in its equipment fund in 2008 and lost another $52,000 from other budgeted line items in 2009, according to Wyffels.

In 2010, the police department cut another $45,000 from line items to help solve the city's budget crunch.

"Under the circumstances, I agree with the cuts," Wyffels told the council. "I believe it's important though, that we stay on task with our hiring objective. Staff has been very supportive, too."

The department's staff, he added, are making personal sacrifices with work shifts, hours and flexibility to help save on overtime and to keep costs down.

"We've held off on significant equipment purchases such as computers and video cameras for squad cars, as well as guns, radios and radars," the chief said.

The budget cuts, however, can't continue indefinitely, Wyffels said.

"I want to tell you that we cannot continue like this - as you know, replacement equipment and officer safety are simply required," he told the council.

To deal with the budgeting challenge, Wyffels proposed to finish building the police station as planned and implement the support services required to get the new building up and running.

In 2012, his department plans to hire the two officers that were approved in 2009 and work to keep equipment needs up to date and safe.

"We will continue to use technology to help be efficient and effective with what we have to minimize critical staffing needs as we go forward," Wyffels said. "It is the only way I know to do more with fewer personnel."

The chief thanked the council and mayor for their support in building a new police station.

"This facility will help us to be a modern 21st century police department," Wyffels said. "It will make it possible to utilize advanced technologies, which allow us to share critical information expeditiously with our law enforcement partners around the country. This facility also advances our evidence processing and is designed to support the situations involving our citizens' confidentiality in sensitive matters."

The council thanked Wyffels for his report and noted his career accomplishments in law enforcement - graduating from the FBI Academy, being elected second vice president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, serving on the state radio communications board and his recent appointment as the only police chief or sheriff to represent Minnesota nationally on the Criminal Justice Information Systems.

Wyffels said those personal achievements wouldn't have been possible without the full vision and support of the city.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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