Cottage Grove police launch proactive policing initiative
Most police work is reactive. An officer might answer a call for help, stop a vehicle for speeding, investigate a burglary or sort out details after a messy domestic dispute.
A new effort by the Cottage Grove Police Department, however, is aimed at preventing crimes like those from ever occurring.
The department has assigned six officers to its new CITE program (Criminal Interdiction and Traffic Enforcement). The officers are pulled off of most routine patrol duty to focus on proactive police work. That includes addressing citizen traffic complaints and livability issues such as problem properties, suspected drug activity or even retail crime.
“Their responsibility is not for normal calls,” said Capt. Greg Rinzel, who is leading the CITE program. Instead, they are responding to concerns or known problems in a way that a patrol officer hopping from one call to another cannot.
Rinzel, who oversees the patrol division, said he has wanted the department to do more proactive policing since he was promoted to captain. The effort started last year with just traffic enforcement, but in January the department formally launched the CITE program.
Two officers — Matt Foucault and Mike McCormick — are handling traffic enforcement between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Four other officers — Sgt. Mike Coffey, Brad Peterson, Jordan Ziebarth and Nils Torning — are working on criminal interdiction during the night shift.
The work is yielding some early results in both areas.
A 10-year veteran of the department, Foucault spends most of his day driving. As one of the CITE traffic enforcement officers, he is focused on speeding and other traffic violations. He also is the first officer to respond to car crashes, when he’s not already on a traffic stop.
The new assignment also includes responding to traffic complaints from homeowners. In the past an officer might take a complaint about cars speeding down a particular street, but it was difficult to follow up on it unless all other officers also knew of the complaint, police said.
Now, Foucault and McCormick take those complaints, talk to the citizens and will spend time — sometimes numerous hours over a week or longer — monitoring traffic. They also are using the department’s speed trailer, which logs the time and speed of all passing vehicles.
Residents along Hillside Trail near Jenner Avenue were concerned about the speed of cars headed downhill on Hillside Trail. The CITE team observed the traffic there and found that many vehicles were traveling well above the speed limit.
The city responded by adding a stop sign at Jenner Avenue.
“We’ve seen a drastic decrease in speed coming down the hill,” Foucault said.
They also monitored the intersection of Hadley Avenue and 90th Street following complaints of stop sign violations and loud vehicles. Foucault said he identified vehicles with loud mufflers and in that case treated it as an educational opportunity with the drivers, rather than just ticketing them. Sometimes that is more effective at changing driver behavior, he said.
Foucault estimated that 90 percent of his shift is spent on CITE work.
“We’ve never really had the ability to do it before,” he said.
The officers are included on the regular patrol schedule, but they only respond to routine police calls if other officers are busy.
“We’re still a police officer working the street,” Foucault said.
Residents may not even know the overnight CITE team is working the street.
That team spends time undercover and sometimes in unmarked vehicles. The officers look into complaints about suspicious behavior at a home or property, such as lots of vehicles coming and going and other behavior that could suggest drug or other illicit activity.
If there are repeated complaints or enough information to suggest possible criminal activity, they may even ask a resident to observe a neighboring property from their driveway or home.
There has to be a legitimate reason to dedicate an officer’s time to surveillance, Rinzel said.
“We’re not going to just pick on people because a neighbor complains,” he said.
The officers working criminal interdiction also are spending some of their time on retail theft. In one month they recovered $4,000 in stolen merchandise, Rinzel said.
Much of the CITE team’s work relies on observant residents willing to contact police if they notice something suspicious. Rinzel said residents are encouraged to submit concerns or complaints, or to request the speed trailer be used in a certain neighborhood, via email on the CITE page of the city’s website: http://www.cottage-grove.org/police/units-a-programs/cite. They can also call 651-439-9381 and ask to talk to a CITE officer.
The new program was possible in part because the Public Safety Department has shifted from having police-paramedics responding to medical calls to making that the priority of firefighter-paramedics.
“The transition to a firefighter/EMS model has made a huge difference for stability and it helped us start a CITE unit,” Public Safety Director Craig Woolery said recently. “It wasn’t possible before that where we can now target enforcement in high-traffic complaint areas where before we were so hamstrung with the ambulance services. Police officers were always running to medics.”