When does putting a coat onto a hanger become police work? When it's part of the Rochester Police Department's Beyond the Badge program.
The program is part of the eight-week in-house training program new officers go through before they head out to do on-the-road training with senior officers. The program began in 2019. Prior to that, when officers joined the department, they would introduce themselves to community partners and organizations on their own -- most likely when they were called out for service.
But now, introductions are made early in an officer's career in an effort to help build relationships that they can take throughout their careers with the department. For those organizations that have become a part of the introduction and orientation of the new officers, building that relationship on the front end has helped in the response they receive.
Lisa Mueller, corps officer with The Rochester Salvation Army, said the program has had a significant impact on their organization by helping to make officers and clients more familiar with one another.
"They come here and they are not in uniform and they are just working and getting to know people, answering questions and just kind of getting a feel for the place," Mueller said. "When the day comes when they have to respond to a call here, they are really going to kind of have our number and understand how to best the handle the situations that we face."
On Wednesday, two recruit-officers helped prepare for the Salvation Army's coat give away by going through donated coats, checking pockets and putting the coats on hangers.
Opportunities to be in the community like this was one of the reasons recruit-officer Harrison Bray wanted to join the Rochester Police Department.
Bray said he first learned of the department while going through the eight-week police officer skills course in Alexandria, Minn.
"When I was trying to figure out where I wanted to work, I would say the culture and the community were kind of the two biggest things that played into what department I wanted to join," Bray said.
Learning about the different opportunities available in the department, as well as programs like Beyond the Badge and National Night Out, helped cement Bray's interest in joining the department.
"I come from a super close family and I really like just getting out and talking with people and that is basically why I came to Rochester, because of Chief Franklin and how he is really able to basically implement the community policing model and getting officers into the community rather than just like law enforcement with no community side of it," Bray said.
Two years after going through the inaugural Beyond the Badge program, Officer Joe Mueller is still getting use out of the training.
Mueller was among the group of then-recruit officers who spent the day at The Place at the Rochester Boys and Girls Club. Mueller, a Rochester native, played basketball and put his past in construction to use repairing a broken Skeeball game.
"Being a part of that Beyond the Badge program, I was able to show my skills on something that I was doing prior to law enforcement," Mueller said. "I traded out my duty belt and put on my other duty belt and was able to help them out, fix it, and play some games with them."
Since that day of volunteering, Mueller said he's been back to the Boys and Girls Club countless times to play ball, hang out with some of the kids he met that day and provide guidance. He said the Beyond the Badge program has helped bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement and show that police officers are humans.
"I don't know how many time we get calls for service and there'll be kids out and about and they'll recognize me," he said. "When they see me, they recognize me, 'Hey, you're the cop that came and fixed our Skeeball.' And I wouldn't have been able to if it wasn't for our in-house training and that program, I wouldn't have been able to show that we were able to help them out in those ways."