Rochester police looking to hireby Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
The Rochester police department is looking to hire a lot of officers. This is because more than a tenth of the department is scheduled to retire by the end of the year. And by 2008 the city will need to find money to keep officers hired through the federal COPS program started during the Clinton administration. As this process begins people within the city are talking about the department's priorities.
Rochester, Minn. — The low crime rate is one of the reasons Rochester is regularly listed as a great place to live in magazines like Money and Forbes. Police Chief Roger Peterson says in the last 20 years more than 40,000 people moved into the city.
"Even though we've seen increases in population, and corresponding increases in call loads," he says, "The crime rate, which is a per capita number, the number of crimes per 100,000, has actually gone down."
In 1980 Rochester's crime rate was 13 percent. In 2004 it was just under 8 percent. Violent crime has increased in Rochester, but property crimes have decreased.
Peterson says the COPS program focuses on crime prevention rather than enforcement. Many of the officers hired through the program have been placed in the Rochester Public Schools as liaisons.
"One of the key components of that is the community involvement," Peterson says. "And having the schools involved and having us involved in that effort in particular where we can interdict and things before they happen."
He says those officers have strengthened community-police relations, especially in immigrant communities that are new to the U-S, and U-S law enforcement.
The COPS program increased the number of officers on the street Before 1995 Rochester had 97 officers. Today it has 122. Whether that's enough is open to debate. Peterson says the number of officers needed is based on socio-economics, crime rates, population and more. According to FBI guidelines, strictly based on population, Rochester should have had 175 officers. Duluth, slightly smaller than Rochester has over a dozen more than Rochester.
Volunteer Public Safety program coordinator Ron Machacek has worked with the department for more than a decade. He says it's understaffed.
"Calls get backed up, so if calls are getting backed up and all they're doing is handling calls, who does the traffic enforcement," he asks.
Machaceck's volunteer program is looking for ways to help with traffic enforcement and other police office work.
The Rochester Police Department is clearly stretched and by the end of this year 16 officers will retire.
Chief Peterson says he hopes to replace all the officers. However, his hiring pool isn't as large as it once was.
"There's been a huge increase in the number of security related jobs since 9/11," he says. "Particularly at the federal level even if there were the same number of candidates, a huge number of them are taking jobs in other agencies: Homeland Security, Airport Security, TSA all of those things are draining candidates from that list."
And those jobs tend to be safer.
Peterson is also looking for more minority officers. Currently, the department has two African American officers and one Hmong officer. But no officers speak Spanish or Arabic, two languages that are increasingly common in the area.
Jesse Jimenez is disappointed by that. Jimenez sat on Rochester's Criminal Justice Forum for 10 years. He says he's met a number of Latino men who had communications problems with the Rochester police.
"There are some who just don't understand," Jimenez says. "I know one who was involved in an accident. He ended up going to jail and he said he just didn't know why they took him to jail because he couldn't understand them in English."
So is Rochester meeting its community needs? Chief Peterson says that depends on what the community wants.
If it's two minute response times and less violent crime then maybe not. If the community wants less crime and better community relations, then maybe yes.
- Morning Edition, 03/27/2006, 7:25 a.m.