With all the calls that police have to take over a 10-hour workday, it can be hard to find the time to focus on problems that don’t demand an emergency response.
Starting Tuesday, four officers and a sergeant working on St. Paul’s East Side will be dedicated to resolving the kinds of small neighborhood problems and complaints that can spiral out of control.
The Community Response Team (CRT) aims to better connect officers with residents and address lower-level crimes before they lead to serious offenses.
“It’s our attempt to get on concerns of the community really early. … We want to deal with the issues while they’re small and before they’ve become so big,” said Eastern District Senior Commander Joe Neuberger.
The team will focus on an area in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood from Maryland Avenue on the north and Earl Street to the east to Interstate 35E to the west. The area will stretch to Dayton’s Bluff, incorporating much of the neighborhood’s historic district.
The CRT is a hybrid of a couple of recent policing projects, Neuberger said.
Back in 2012, 71 percent of East Side respondents who were surveyed said they felt unsafe after dark. That improved to 65 percent of people feeling unsafe after the implementation of the police’s Safe Summer Initiative.
The project targeted youth caught out after curfew. Out of the 159 kids who were picked up in the inaugural summer of 2012 and placed into a diversion program, only 11 were picked up again, authorities said.
After a near-fatal beating in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood last August stirred public outcry, police dedicated 30 extra officers to patrol the area, looking for large groups of roaming youths that were causing problems in an effort called Operation Blue Wave.
“The summer sort of exploded on us. … We weren’t getting the small things taken care of quick enough,” Neuberger said.
With the CRT, police hope to be more active dealing with issues like youth blocking the street before they lead to more violent crimes, he said.
The team also wants to help the community become better informed and more involved in crime prevention, using social media such as Facebook to alert residents to gang activity and problem locations.
“You really want them to tell you and then you go and fix the problem or help them fix the problem. It empowers them,” said Commander Jill McRae.
McRae is coordinating with the city attorney and county attorney’s offices, which can help by fast-tracking problem people and also help with juvenile diversion.
The CRT should run through the summer, but, if it’s successful and staffing allows it, Neuberger said it could continue. To learn more, residents can attend a community meeting on April 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Eastern District’s offices, 722 Payne Ave.