WHITE BEAR LAKE — Most people probably wouldn't guess the No. 1 complaint received by the Police Department is traffic.
"Citizens want more traffic enforcement," said Chief Julie Swanson.
She added that the city's officers didn't write a lot of tickets in 2020 since people were already stressed by the pandemic. Plus, there weren't as many people on the roads last year.
Typically, White Bear cops respond to 28,000 calls for service annually. Last year, it was 24,000. That's still a lot of calls for a small town department with 31 officers. As the chief put it, there weren't as many people on the street doing crime. "I think even the criminals were nervous about the pandemic," she surmised.
The police chief has served in many roles during her 21 years with the department. She spoke to the White Bear Lake Rotary Club last month about crime in the city and included some personal info, as well. Like the fact she moved to White Bear from St. Paul when she was 14, has a degree in social work and has been married 32 years. She and her husband raised three sons through the White Bear school district, two of whom are also cops.
As for crime trends, Swanson said they received 175 domestic calls in 2020, down from 2019. "I don't know why it's down, because more people were home," she noted. "It's amping up a little, so maybe they're sick of each other by now." Domestics involve assault and fear for one's life as opposed to disturbances, which numbered 400 last year.
Another "big one" is thefts from auto, of which there were 200 last year. "The unfortunate thing is what they're stealing is minimal," added the chief. "It's a crime of opportunity. People go through a neighborhood. If they see $5 in change, they'll break a window to get it."
Swanson said deterrents are locked cars, well-lit areas and not leaving items in a car. Ring doorbell cams are helping, but people wearing masks are hard to identify.
Catalytic converters continue to be a hot item. In 2020, 23 were reported stolen. There have been 40 reported already this year. The most popular targets are the Toyota Prius and Mitsubishi Outlander. The latter has an optional cage to protect the converter from theft. It's a couple hundred bucks, according to the chief, but that's better than waiting three months for a new converter.
Other trends in 2020:
• 150 calls involved persons in crisis. White Bear uses forfeiture money to pay for a part-time mental health case worker. The person is shared by several communities through Northeast Youth & Family Services.
• 11 drug overdose deaths and 36 involving Narcan. "We work hard at preventing overdose deaths," the chief said. Officers started carrying Narcan a year ago. The antidote to overdose is used at least four times a month, sometimes several times a week. As for drug dealing in White Bear, Swanson said it's not getting worse.
"We have a lot of challenges in law enforcement, especially the last three years," Swanson told Rotarians. "There are people who do wrong in law enforcement, and that's not acceptable. The state has 11,000 police officers, so you're only hearing about a couple involved in drastic events." She blames the media for the shift to anti-law enforcement sentiments and wants people to remember they're seeing a minority of issues.
During the riots that followed the death of George Floyd, Swanson said she remembers thinking, "I've never lived through this in law enforcement. There was chaos and fear. I'm glad we've come through that and I think a lot of good change has come through as a result. It's opened up discussion that needed to be opened."
Her department attracts some diversity, but "not a ton," added Swanson, who meets potential recruits through a teaching position at Century College. "There is more opportunity in bigger cities and counties. We do tend to recruit White Bear people, which is good for our community."
— Debra Neutkens