Increased traffic from the Highway 36 bridge, opioids, the many challenges brought on by the pandemic including what can be declared as a mental health crisis — that is just a glimpse of what the Stillwater Police Department (SPD) is facing in 2021.
SPD is now under the leadership of newly hired Police Chief Brian Mueller. Originally from the Woodbury/Cottage Grove area and currently living in Lake Elmo, Mueller started with the SPD in January after more than 20 years with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department where he rose to the position of chief deputy. How can the police take on all these issues in 2021? Mueller says it’s all about the “it takes a village” approach and will look at partnerships and collaborations where he can.
“Any way to get together and solve problems, that’s what we’re going to do,” Mueller said.
In addition to working with the Washington County SWAT and narcotics teams, Mueller said he will look at recent trends to bring a more efficient way of taking on these issues in Stillwater so officers can better serve the community.
One issue stemming from the pandemic is an increase in mental health related calls.
“Those are usually officer intensive with many repeat calls,” Mueller said. “That’s very concerning for law enforcement officials and takes a lot of the officers’ time.”
Mueller said the police department will be collaborating with resources such as the Washington County Crisis Response unit, which is a 24/7 mobile crisis intervention service that provides assistance for intensive mental health service calls.
“By partnering with them it will benefit our officers and citizens as well, as we can provide the services they really need,” he said.
On the opioid crisis, Mueller says partnerships are crucial in addressing the issue.
“This scares the daylights out of me … it’s so addictive and deadly,” he said, adding that the SPD will approach the crisis with partnerships with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Washington County, Stillwater School District and other resources.
With COVID-19 restrictions appearing to be loosening as more and more people become vaccinated, Mueller said he looks forward to seeing more events in the community, and the upcoming summer tourism season. He said the SPD will be working hard to provide a safe environment in Stillwater and the historic downtown area.
“We are fortunate to be in a community that is also a tourist destination,” he said. “We have to make the community citizens and visitors feel safe … We will provide a safe atmosphere.”
Increased traffic along Highway 36 since the new bridge opened in 2017 is another concern for Mueller, who said there is a mix of younger drivers going to and from school, and semis sharing the highway, combined with the distracted driving issues that continue to be an issue.
“I love the bridge, but Manning and 36 is a concern,” he said.
There are plans in the works for improvements at Manning Avenue and Highway 36, but until that becomes reality, he said the department will need to monitor.
Mueller is optimistic that with the help of the community and the many resources at his disposal, these issues can be addressed with the best outcomes possible, so he and the department can achieve yet another goal in community relations. A community panel was part of the Mueller hiring process, and a positive relationship between the SPD and citizens was a top priority.
“There were business owners, parents, health care professionals … All these people really care,” he said. “Whatever lenses they were looking through, they want to partner with the police department.”
Mueller said he hopes as the COVID-19 restrictions loosen, he will be able to get out in the community and speak at events such as Rotary Club meetings.
“People want to be heard, and we want to listen,” he said.