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Like other counties, Hennepin isn’t alone in trying to balance budgetary constraints with the nonstop flow of offenders. About a quarter of the 220 probation officers are required to wear vests, said Brian Kopperud, division manager of adult probation and parole. There are currently 27,000 offenders on probation and officers use sophisticated tools to assess which ones are high risk and need the most attention, he said.
“Officers know their clients well enough to determine if something is off when they visit,” he said. “It is more risky to do visits at home and not in the office, but it helps build better relationships by engaging in their natural environment.”
Field work can be even more challenging in rural areas, said Kay Arola, whose staff covers five counties in northern Minnesota. Many of their clients live in remote areas where the nearest police station could be two hours away, she said. In rural homes, there is a higher likelihood one of the residents other than the offender may own a gun, she said.
“And working in smaller towns, you are going to run into an offender or your children may go to school with their children,” she said.
It’s mandatory for some of the 78 probation officers to keep a vest in their vehicle, she said. Any officer can check out a vest, she said. When she was a probation officer, a juvenile pulled a gun on her. She was hesitant to talk about it because such incidents are so rare, she said.
“I believe people are called to this profession,” Arola said. “It’s not a 9-to-5 job.”
David Chanen • 612-673-4465