A desire to collaborate emerged as a common goal Thursday as Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson and Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin faced a variety of questions from Olmsted County’s Human Rights Commission and Public Health Services Advisory Board.
“It will not all be figured out this evening,” Nikki Niles, director of Dodge-Fillmore-Olmsted Community Corrections, said as she began moderating the forum.
Question topics included outreach and engagement efforts, hiring practices, and equity in law enforcement.
In nearly every area discussed, Torgerson and Franklin pointed to ways the community could help.
“We can’t do this on our own,” the sheriff said of community engagement efforts.
What happened: Olmsted County’s Human Rights Commission and Public Health Services Advisory Board held a question-and-answer session with Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson and Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin.
Why does this matter: The two county groups are working to study diversity and equity issues as they examine racism as a public health issue.
What's next: The Human Rights Commission will discuss Thursday’s responses during its next meeting.
While pointing to programs that invite local residents to engage with officers on a regular basis, including the return of Safe City Nights, as well as community dialogues with specific groups, Torgerson said the next step needs to be community groups calling law enforcement officials to discuss specific concerns.
“We don’t get that second level of engagement,” he said.
During the conversation, Franklin pointed to the merits of the collaboration that has led to a co-responder model, where county social workers respond with police officers and deputies when needed.
He said the city didn’t have the required funding for added staff, but the county was able to put it in the budget to aid both departments. With a seven-year uptick in mental health crisis calls, he said it was needed.
At the same time, he said it’s sometimes hard for community members see the value in the program, since it’s not always known when the social workers and officers work together to de-escalate a threat.
“There are countless incidents like that that you don’t know about,” he told the 17 members from the two county groups.
In the end, the board and commission asked Torgerson and Franklin how they could partner with the sheriff’s and police departments.
Both emphasized the need for continued conversations and community engagement as an open two-way effort.
“I’m not asking for anyone’s sympathy,” Franklin said. “I’m just asking for help.”
Julian Currie, the county’s human resources director, who works with the Human Rights Commission, said the goal is to have continued discussions to work toward greater community engagement and education on many of the issues discussed.
Thursday’s discussion was also part of the two county groups’ work surrounding racism as a public health issue.
“The work group has been, over the past few months, meeting with different county staff and departments learning about different initiatives,” Currie said.
Torgerson and Franklin said their departments have been working to increase programs aimed at improving cultural awareness in their departments, some of which are required by the state, with others added to address needs based on local diversity.
Still, they said more can be done.
“We are doing a lot of things right, but we have room for improvement,” Franklin said.
The Human Rights Commission plans to revisit the discussion, as well as answers to additional questions that Torgerson and Franklin will be asked to provide in writing, during their next meeting in July or August.
For insights from Wednesday’s discussion, check out the Twitter feed of Post Bulletin public safety reporter Emily Cutts @ecutts_PB.