Police work doesn’t normally involve helping an elementary-schooler create a quiz about Calvin and Hobbes characters for homework. But on Wednesday, that is exactly what it involved for new Rochester Police Officer Matt Venteicher.
Venteicher and two more new officers were at The Place all day Wednesday visiting the Boys and Girls Club as part of the Rochester Police Department’s Beyond the Badge – Community Partnership Program. All seven of the department’s new officers are taking part in the new program designed to help introduce officers to community resources while they build partnerships to better serve citizens.
The program is part of the eight-week in-house training program the officers go through before they head out to do on-the-road training with senior officers. In the past, new officers have introduced themselves to community partners and organizations on their own, Rochester Police Sgt. Paul Gronholz said.
Officer Andrew Thoma, the department’s training officer, said that without the program, new officers would meet community service providers and businesses when they were called out for service.
"I came here from an outside agency and the first time I had a chance to meet some of these organizations was on a call for service," Thoma said. "Going to a group home or something and not knowing what I’m walking into ... it could have been easier if I had a little more information on my end."
The new program provides a more formalized way for new officers to form relationships they can take throughout their careers with the department.
The program has three stages. The first stage has the officers meeting with six agencies: the Salvation Army, Cardinal of Minnesota, the Boys and Girls Club, Bear Creek Services, Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and Hiawatha Homes.
The second stage involves two full days of service. The final stage will have each officer write a report on what they did and what they think the department could do to have a better relationship with those organizations.
As the school day ended Wednesday and kids started to trickle into the building’s gym, one officer was on hand to join in a game of basketball.
Another, Joe Mueller, used his past construction experience to fix a broken game table with the help of some of the boys and girls who were on hand.
Venteicher, a Rochester native, said he came back to serve in his hometown because the department is community-oriented.
"Law enforcement for me is all about community policing. Being out in the community is what makes law enforcement," Venteicher said. "If we don’t get along with the community, it makes our job tough."
He previously served as a deputy sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona. Venteicher said he expected the training he’d receive in Rochester to be "your traditional behind-the-scenes training and go to the road, like I previously did."
"We’re not shooting weapons right now, " he said. "We are out in the community, getting to know people in the community and how we can interact with them, make their lives better and make our jobs more fun."
"This isn’t a PowerPoint presentation," Venteicher said. "This is real life."