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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The L. Anthony Sutin Civic Imagination Award is named in memory of Tony Sutin, who served as a founder and deputy director of the COPS Office from its creation in 1994 to 1996. This annual award is bestowed upon a collaborative team of law enforcement and community members whose innovative civic interactions have transformed public safety in their community. The ideal nominee creates community collaborations that are innovative, creative, and transformative; displays civic leadership through problem solving and collaborative partnerships; and promotes public safety through dedication to the community policing philosophy. For the 2018 Award, two winners were selected. In St. Cloud, Minnesota, the award was presented to the St. Cloud Public Safety Foundation and the Community Outpost Team of the St. Cloud Police Department.
All policing is local, and that goes double for St. Cloud, Minnesota. In 2014, the St. Cloud Police Department started designing their Community OutPost (COP) House program and facility. The idea was adapted from a project in Racine, Wisconsin, where the police department had renovated or rebuilt homes in high-need, high-crime areas and repurposed the houses as police department outposts. St. Cloud identified both a neighborhood and a specific property as the genesis for the project. “In 2014, we were dealing with higher crime rates and livability issues on St. Cloud's south side and it was then when I pitched the idea of having a COP House program to Chief Anderson,” said Officer Dan McClure. “In addition to crime rates, the area in which we serve is very transient with approximately 95 percent of the properties in the area are rentals. Furthermore, we knew that over 90 percent of children, K through 12, were on free or reduced lunch.”
The St. Cloud Police Department convened community partners and service providers to identify all the services that could be distributed from the COP House to ensure a holistically “well” community. This included CentraCare Health, a local healthcare provider. Other early partners included Minnesota School District #742, St. Cloud State University, the Mayo Clinic Gold Cross Ambulance, Stearns County Human Services, and the St. Cloud Rotary Club. Once the coalition was established, it began the process of conversion to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Greater St. Cloud Public Safety Foundation. The foundation spearheaded the fundraising necessary to build the launch the COP House. The entire project was funded without tax dollars, and the end result was a renovated facility that meets the needs of both the department and the neighborhood.
“I think that the neatest thing about our Community OutPost is how we have truly incorporated the entire community in to the plan and the service delivery,” Sergeant Lori Ellering suggests. “We all talk a lot about wellness in our daily lives, yet there is so much more to being ‘well’ in your neighborhood than just not getting robbed on your way home. Crime prevention and detection is a critical component to public safety, and that is the component that the police do very well. Our community can add to that: a safe place to play, education planning and adult education, legal assistance, healthcare services and so many other services and networks!”
The day prior to the award ceremony, the COP House hosted their weekly East African Women’s Sewing Circle. The house is a fully functional departmental outpost, but it also serves as an ambulance bay for Gold Cross to reduce call times, a base for WIC clinics with Stearns County Human Services, a meeting place for community meetings, a temporary care facility for children while foster care is being arranged, a base for sporting activities run by students from St. Cloud State University, a classroom for a law enforcement class taught by the university, and a site for a monthly community wellness day with CentraCare Health. There are even free dental clinics on a regular basis.
It wouldn’t be a celebration in Minnesota without a choir, and the North Star Boys Choir led the national anthem. The local Boy Scout troop provided the trooping of the colors. Kids from the nearby Boys and Girls Club marched over for the event (Sgt. Ellering knows them all by name), and neighbors stopped in to have a word with Officer McClure. Chief William Blair Anderson told the assembled crowd, “The [Sutin] award is affirmation and recognition that our efforts are not in vain. It also reminds us and motivates us to remember that although we have excelled and done well in this endeavor, we must continue to work hard to make sure ours is a community that embodies the spirit of cooperation, compassion, and consideration for one another.”
The COP House shows no sign of slowing down. At the time of writing, Officer McClure had his hands full: “Just yesterday we completed our second annual Back to School program. We were able to provide school-aged children from across the area with 500 backpacks, 380 of which were filled with school supplies. We had 15 volunteers to help with the event as well as five interpreters to help with translation. In addition to the backpack giveaway, we had members from District 742 ready to register new kids for school this fall as well as Public Health giving immunization record information to those families requesting it. In all, the event went extremely well, even though we had a massive 20 minute thunderstorm that blew through the area.” (It wouldn’t be a summer day in Minnesota without a thunderstorm, either.) “We are also in the process of having a homework/tutor help after school program to start this fall. We hope to have that up in running by the middle of September!”
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