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Citizen Academy log: Bridging the gap between citizens and community

Editor’s note: This is the latest story covering the Red Wing Police Department Citizen Academy. Reporter Matthew Lambert will recount the events that unfold in each class, sharing details and observations of what he experienced during his time in the academy. Find previous entries at Red Wing Police Academy.

How many interactions did you have with a police officer, positive or negative, last month? What about last year? Last decade? What were those instances like?

I think a lot of people have experienced similar situations to me: mainly good, but with few a pretty bad interactions in between.

All too often I've talked with officers in multiple departments about being transparent and available to the community. To be a positive beacon for the community they serve.

No, I don't think every police officer across state or country is a positive beacon. That's like saying you should trust everything you read on Facebook.

As I've pointed out before, I haven't had many negative discussions or instances with law enforcement in my life. Again, I'm naive to say because negative things don't happen specifically to me they don't happen to other people. They do, it's well documented by people more qualified than myself to discuss.

But attending the Citizen Academy did reinforce the common goal that Chief Roger Pohlman discussed at the beginning of the six-week training: cops and the community need to be unified.

A disconnect between the two would cause chaos. Police are there to enforce the laws and people need to follow them. At the same time, police must not let the power go to their heads.

After numerous speakers and hours covering the various departments and areas of the police department, I feel confident the Red Wing Police Department wants to be that beacon of positivity.

Officers want to have the casual conversation every once in awhile, that isn't connected to them showing up for an offense. They don't want to ruin people's lives, rather to enrich them.

For that to happen though, there needs to be more participation from the community. And taking a class like this is a great option.

The classes were free flowing, every speaker going through a gauntlet of practical and hypothetical situations. Some officers discussing their personal lives and experiences, sharing the difficulties of the job and the rewarding parts as well.

There doesn't need to be a clash. A moment with an officer doesn't have to be a result of being pulled over for speeding or something worse.

So how do we all come together? How do we shed those stereotypes and preconceived notions at the door and act like a community of people?

I'm not suggesting the police department shouldn't be challenged. It should. Just like we as a community should be challenged as well.

I've found in my short career, that having face-to-face interactions, trumps all other kinds. Here at the paper, we're routinely called out for things on social media or around town. For things people don't believe, or choose not to believe, in our stories.

That's the same with the police department: talking with people in law enforcement, face-to-face, understanding each other is the key.

Talking sounds so simple, doesn't it? Let's try it. Ask a simple question, like what's your favorite meal, something easy like that.

I'll go first: my mom's chicken enchiladas. Your move, coppers.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2018 covering school board, public safety, and writing features. Lambert previously wrote for the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication: Journalism. 

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