Bryan Schafer, the new Hastings chief, and Jeff Long in Lakeville both say building relationships is a key task.
The new police chiefs in Lakeville and Hastings have enough years as a police officer under their belts to retire.
But that isn’t in the cards for either of them for quite awhile.
For Bryan Schafer, 50, getting the top-cop job in Hastings, a town of 22,321 with a sworn police force of 28, was a little like going home again. A native of Winona, Minn., he took over Nov. 4 after almost 23 years with the Minneapolis Police Department, where he was lauded for helping overhaul the juvenile justice system and creating the juvenile investigative unit. Those efforts led to his appointment as inspector of the city’s First Precinct.
“This was my lifetime dream here,” Schafer said last week. “I’m just getting my second wind. Or my third wind. I don’t know which it is.”
Jeff Long, 46, became chief in Lakeville on Jan. 20 after 24 years with the Edina Police Department, including the last four as chief.
He was comfortable there, he said, and easily could have spent his entire career there. But Lakeville, with almost 40 square miles, had significantly more potential for growth and development, and Long was attracted to the new challenges that come with that.
“Their mantra is ‘Positioned to thrive,’ ” Long noted. “That isn’t just a quote attached to auto-signatures. They’re taking steps to do that.”
Lakeville and Edina have similar populations and police forces, Lakeville with 53 officers, Edina with 51. Both communities also have residents that keep a keen interest and are active in local government.
“That’s energizing to me,” Long said.
One of Long’s first challenges will be to maintain the size of the police force. Lakeville will likely lose a few officers before pension changes take effect this summer, and others, especially those who started a new career later in life, are in a position to retire soon, too.
Another challenge will be dealing with the transient crime brought in by Interstate 35, which runs directly through the city, and with traffic-related livability issues such as speeding and running neighborhood stop signs, Long said.
In his first three months in office, Long wants to sit down with every officer in the department.
“I think it’s important to respect the history that’s here. I want to hear from the people out doing the work,” he said. “What’s working, what’s not working, what would you like to see change and what would you like to stay the same?”
He’ll then follow up by asking each City Council member the same question.
The third step, he said, is meeting with the community. In Edina, Long held regular “office hours” at local coffee shops and held “chat with the chief” nights at residents’ homes, where neighbors could talk about whatever was on their minds. He hopes to do the same in Lakeville.
Schafer, too, wants to connect with the community. But his first priority, he said, is holding his staff and employees accountable.
Under previous Police Chief Paul Schnell, two officers who faced disciplinary problems left the department. One was fired, and the other agreed to resign.
Keeping abreast of technology, whether it concerns report writing, call and activity tracking or Internet crime, also is a challenge.
The rural and urban nature of Hastings, with its farmland and its position as county seat, leads to more collaboration with other agencies, such as the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s Drug Task Force, than Schafer had in Minneapolis. The city made headlines in recent years due to youth drug problems. Hwy. 61 and the new bridge across the Mississippi River opens up the city to traffic headed to other parts of the state.
All those are issues Schafer plans to tackle. But he didn’t come into the job with a 90-day plan, he said.
“I’m not going to change,” he said. “I’m going to continue to do what makes me successful, what got me here. My personal goal is to establish relationships, get to know my people, build trust and then start hammering out the issues at hand.
“I’m really, really enjoying myself,” Schafer said. “Everything that comes my way is a challenge. I enjoy challenges. That’s why I do this job.”
Schafer, the single parent of a 15-year-old son, also hopes to benefit from the slightly slower pace of life in a smaller city. His son is involved in basketball and soccer, thus so is he. He enjoys snowmobiling, riding his Harley and working on his collector cars. Maybe he’ll play a little golf.
Long, too, said being chief in Lakeville is his dream job.
“I’m excited to be in a community that’s involved and takes pride in their community,” he said. “I’m an active person, an avid runner. I’m not ready to call it quits. It’s not a cliché when I say I love my job. I honestly love my job.”