Partners in crime fighting
Every month, the Alexandria Fire Department invites police officers to a simple meal during their training.
They're sharing more than food. They're getting to know one another and they're building partnerships.
Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels talked about how important that monthly contact is when he delivered his annual report at Monday's Alexandria City Council meeting.
He said the interaction has helped the police and fire departments work together on fire control, traffic situations and community searches for missing people.
When the police need help with a search, Wyffels said he'll call the fire department and "never once has there been an ounce of hesitation to help."
Not every community has that kind of cooperative spirit, said the chief. Some areas have trouble with turf wars and competitiveness but that's not the case here, he said.
"I brag about this relationship with my peers who don't understand how it could be so simple," Wyffels said. "This credit goes to the fire department for their continued commitment to keep these things going. I want to thank them publicly."
The police department, Wyffels said, also enjoys an "extraordinary" partnership with the city's street and parks department. They keep the police parking lot and driveways open during the winter and take care of the grass and shrubs.
Other highlights from Wyffels' report:
New police facility. Wyffels said the department's new home on 3rd Avenue West is going well. The new location has been up and running for just short of a year and there are some items and warranty concerns, he said, but added that's normal when starting out in a new facility.
One concern beyond warranty issues is how to better manage the facility's heating and cooling systems. Some areas of the building, such as the clerical space, are too cold. Wyffels said he'll get guidance from the city administrator and construction manager.
The department has held off hiring a new clerical person at the front desk. "Because of how our technology is working and the design of the building, I anticipate we will not need to fill this position anytime soon," said Wyffels.
Accomplishments. Wyffels was elected as vice president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and will serve as president starting later this month. He's also a member of the Criminal Justice Information System's advisory board - the only police chief in the state who was appointed to the board.
He's a representative of the State Association of Chiefs of Police and served as executive director of the association. He's also chair of the regional drug task force and is secretary/treasurer for the Region 4 Chiefs of Police.
On his own time, Wyffels attended a conference in Washington, D.C. that focused on national police issues. "Many of the things we are dealing with in our city and state are similar issues across this country," he said.
Wyffels added that officer safety remains his highest priority and he's concerned about the record numbers of officers who have been killed across the U.S. in recent years. One purpose of his trip to Washington was to meet with nine U.S. senators and representatives to discuss continued federal funding for bullet-proof vests.
Another hot topic was synthetic drugs. Wyffels supports getting federal laws in place that stop the abuse of synthetic drugs, which are difficult to declare illegal because the drug makers keep changing the ingredients.
Wyffels said he also pushed for continued support of drug task force funding.
Crime prevention. The department has one crime prevention officer: Jim Gripne.
"He's doing multiple jobs and is spread quite thin," Wyffels said. "He's also our fulltime school resource officer. Other communities our size have between three and five police officers doing the kind of work Jim is."
The department is able to fill the void because of Gripne's positive attitude and other officers' willingness to help, Wyffels said.
Citizens Police Academy. Sixteen citizens attended this year's academy to get an inside look into police work and the reviews were outstanding, Wyffels said.
"Even though I know for a fact our citizens had a life-changing experience and it allowed our city to show off its police force and its abilities, I was most proud of our officers' involvement," Wyffels said, adding that if the budget allows, he'd like to offer the academy again next year.
Captain Scott Kent and staff. Wyffels wrapped up his report by crediting the work of his captain, Scott Kent.
"As we are busy doing things as an organization, building on ideas, challenges, etc., he is the glue that keeps it together," Wyffels said. "I appreciate all our staff and their commitment."