Woodbury's new director of public safety, Jason Posel, grew up in a working-class family on St. Paul's East Side.

The new police chief, Omar Maklad, grew up in Woodbury, the son of Egyptian immigrants.

"We bring different perspectives and different experiences," Maklad, 40, said. "That's what we need at the table."

Posel, 46, is Woodbury's chief law enforcement officer and will oversee the Public Safety Department's public safety functions, including 74 police officers and 21 full-time firefighters and support staff with a combined $20 million budget. Maklad will manage police operations for Washington County's largest Police Department.

Woodbury leaders said they focused on internal candidates for the two top jobs because they felt the department was on the right path, and the bench of homegrown talent was deep. In a national climate where law enforcement is under intense scrutiny, city officials wanted police leaders they've already seen respond to crises and who knew the community, said City Administrator Clinton Gridley.

"It sends a great message that we have a great culture," said Woodbury Mayor Anne Burt.

Homegrown leaders

Posel spent his early childhood on St. Paul's East Side, and became interested in law enforcement when a St. Paul police K-9 officer visited his fifth-grade classroom.

He joined the Woodbury police as a community service officer in 1996 and became an officer in 1998. In the years since, he's worked on the night patrol shift, as a police dog handler and on Washington County's multiagency SWAT team.

"I effectively grew up in this organization," Posel said.

Posel earned a bachelor's degree from Metropolitan State University in 2010 and a master's degree in criminal justice leadership from Concordia University this spring. His wife is a police sergeant in River Falls, Wis., and they have a college-age daughter.

As public safety director, Posel's annual salary is $144,400.

Maklad moved from Connecticut to Woodbury around age 8 for his father's career as a scientist at 3M. As a teenager, Maklad did some on-the-job training at 3M, but was drawn to law enforcement and clandestinely participated in the high school police explorers program.

"There were some cultural complexities. There was almost an expectation within my family to pursue either a career in engineering or medicine," Maklad said. "When I started as a police explorer, I would hide my uniform in the trunk of my car and tell my parents I was going to the library. It wasn't until college they really understood what my interests were."

Maklad earned a bachelor's from Metropolitan State and started his law enforcement career as both a Woodbury community service officer and a part-time officer in Bayport. He worked as a patrol officer, field training officer and as the commander of the interagency SWAT team. He's also cross-trained as a firefighter.

In 2010, Maklad was shot and injured by a suspect during a domestic violence call. Maklad returned fire and killed the suspect.

Maklad's wife is a nurse in Woodbury, and they have two teens. His parents still live there, too. Though he's had opportunities to serve in bigger departments, he said, he chose to stay in his hometown.

"How safe the streets are, how safe our neighborhoods [are] is important to me because this is where my family works and lives and goes to school," Maklad said.

Maklad's annual salary as police chief is $132,154.

Connecting with residents

The two leaders say they're focused on customer service, including quick callbacks to everyone who phones police to file a report, ask a question or just raise a concern. The Police Department responded to about 40,300 calls last year.

"We are in the service industry," Posel said. "We are trying to have meaningful interactions to help solve problems."

On national Night to Unite, Posel and Maklad were among a dozen officers who attended 75 block parties. The mood was relaxed, with residents mingling with officers and firefighters. Though other communities have struggled with police-community relations, neighbors said they feel satisfied with their relationship with law enforcement.

"I feel good about police. I feel safe," said Beth Olson, who co-organized a block party. "If you need something, they come. They're approachable. I feel like police are very present in the community."

While violent crime has surged in Minneapolis, St. Paul and cities across the county, Woodbury has not seen an increase, police leaders say. But they know the perception of rising crime affects residents, and two high-profile carjackings at local shopping centers have left the community on edge.

Suspects in both incidents now face charges, Maklad said.

Woodbury police are also taking steps to connect with residents in new ways. The department is one of the latest to embed a social worker who partners with a detective focused on mental health, substance abuse and homelessness.

And there's an emphasis on connecting with communities of color — Woodbury is about 28% people of color, and that number is rising.

In 2019, the Public Safety Department created a Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC) that has access to police leadership. The group of two dozen civilians meets monthly to discuss department policy and current events, and is part of many officer hirings and promotions.

"We have access to all public safety leaders. We sit side by side and work in collaboration and connection with each other," said Shawn Sorrell, a founding member of the group who works as a diversity, equity and inclusion department manager for Hennepin County.

Having the committee in place when a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd in 2020 put the city on more solid footing, Woodbury police leaders said.

"Some of those conversations we had over that period were really meaningful," Posel said.

Sorrell said he and Posel have visited each other's homes and had frank conversations about policing, community relations and race. Posel's working-class background gives him an additional level of understanding and empathy, Sorrell said.

"He's very astute to that and understands that dynamic," he said.

Sorrell, who is African American, has lived in Woodbury for a decade with his wife and kids. During his first three years in the city, he said, he was pulled over for traffic stops without incident or receiving a citation. Over time, he said, that's improved.

"When you talk about policing and communities of color, everyone has a different experience. [Woodbury] is a much better experience than most other jurisdictions in the Twin Cities," Sorrell said. "Are there still challenges? Absolutely."