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It's Our Turn: Keeping an eye out for one another

The three armed robberies that took place in Alexandria over the past month were shocking and unsettling.

Just reporting about it put me on edge. One night, I dreamed I was getting into my car and it was pitch-black. When I turned to see what was wrong with the dome light, a man dressed in black suddenly rose out of the back seat, pointed a handgun at me and was about to pull the trigger when I woke up, bolt upright, with a muffled scream on my lips.

That kind of fear was permeating throughout the community. I saw it in the police and sheriff blotter over the past few weeks. Every third or fourth item was about a resident reporting a suspicious person or vehicle. There were dozens of calls to law enforcement about a man “walking with a limp,” like the suspected robber. It made me feel kind of bad that anyone walking around Alexandria with an irregular step had to go through that kind of scrutiny. Considering the very serious nature of these crimes, however, having that kind of vigilance is a good thing – helpful, as long as doesn’t turn into vigilantism or mass panic.

The armed robberies also gave me a new appreciation of our law enforcement people. You don’t have to talk to Police Chief Rick Wyffels very long before you can see how much the case is eating away at him and how badly he wanted to find out who was responsible for creating such fear in our town. Just one quote from Wyffels in one of our stories gives an inkling to how frustratingly difficult the case is: “When someone hides their identity well with masks and tape, it just makes things harder. It’s like playing hide-and-seek with a bunch of people and you don’t know who they are.”

When crimes like this happen, it’s understandable for the public to want an arrest as soon as possible. But some of the comments I heard from amateur sleuths out there were unrealistic, expecting CSI-type results of fingerprints, DNA and other evidence in an instant. Real investigations, of course, take a lot more shoe leather and real-world evidence gathering.

The Alexandria Police Department isn’t alone in its investigation. The help they’re receiving is a testament to how local, regional and state law enforcement agencies can work together for the common good, no matter whose “turf” it is. Agencies that are cooperating on this case include the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Pope County Sheriff’s Office, Glenwood Police Department, West Central Drug Task Force, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Minnesota State Patrol. That’s at least eight agencies, or around 60 detectives, officers and other personnel providing manpower and expertise in the investigation.

An arrest was made last Friday and a suspect was charged and is in custody. Is he the guy? We must remember that under our criminal justice system, a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Chief Wyffels reminded the public of that fact at Monday’s city council meeting and pledged to continue the investigation, collecting evidence and building a case.

In the meantime, it’s reassuring to know that we have a law enforcement network that works together and a vigilant community that keeps an eye out for one another. That’ll help me sleep better at night.

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“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

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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