International Falls police activities are making people who deal and do drugs uncomfortable and as a result, helping to get drugs off the street.
That was the message Falls Police Chief Rich Mastin had for the International Falls City Council when he reported on the department's 2018 activities.
Mastin, who became chief in July 2016, said it's no secret he's taken a hard line on drugs ever since he became a police officer.
With about one year as a member of the Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force, the department is seeing results, he said.
"We continue toward our goal of making the city of International Falls and Koochiching County an undesirable location to sell or use illegal drugs," he said.
Mastin provided a comparison of 2018 department activities with 2017:
- -The task force has been involved in 30 operations. Locally, the task force seized one vehicle and more than $3,000 in 2018.
- -Police seized 485 grams, or just over 17 ounces, of methamphetamine in 2018 - a 45 percent increase from 2017.
- -Just less than 13 ounces, or 365 grams, of marijuana was seized in 2018, compared to 67 grams, or just over 2 ounces, seized in 2017.
- -In 2018, Mastin estimated that police seized about $100,000 or more in street value of controlled substances in 2018, compared to just more than $68,000 in 2017.
He provided a 36-month snapshot that shows:
- -2.5 percent decrease in crimes against the person: assault, criminal sexual conduct, domestic assault.
- -15.5 percent decrease in property crimes: criminal damage, trespass, burglary.
- -18.5 percent increase in new cases generated.
- -70 percent increase in traffic enforcement efforts.
- -39.5 percent increase in general calls for service.
He pointed to the decrease in crimes against the person and property crimes to the work by officers and members of the community.
"I attribute that to the hard work, the efforts on streets, alert neighbors, communication with technology... everybody working together," he said. "We're actually gaining some ground. I am pretty pleased with that."
He said he plans to continue education of the public, training of officers, and increasing community engagement, possibly with town hall forums that feature guests on certain topics.
Mastin said both sets of statistics shows the department's increased effort to engage with the local community, as well as technology improvements, have worked. He said when he began as chief, he pushed for more community engagement and policing, pointing to small events like fishing with kids to the National Night Out and the expansion of the DARE program.
"Our officers are seen more in the community, are more active, and I am hoping it gives citizens the sense they are more approachable," Mastin said.
And that ties into technology, he said, describing a new records management system and providing computers in squad cars, which he called a "fabulous tool. Officers have the information they need immediately to complete reports. You may see them parked on the street in squad for some time doing reports. That allows more time in the street and more visibility, which is a great, too."
In addition, he said training that goes beyond state requirements has assisted the department in several ways.
"We are building teachers so we don't need to send people out to be trained," he noted, adding that training helps officers be better at their jobs and in their careers.
Mastin said he has some ideas for the future, adding he will continue what's been working.
"We have community engagement over here, we continue the push on drugs over there, and at the same time... it brings down other crimes," he said. "Drugs can be attributed to a lot of property crimes: vehicle tampering, burglaries, thefts - a lot can be attributed to addiction."
Mayor Bob Anderson thanks Mastin and his officers for their efforts. He pointed to the decrease in crime and valuable officer training, including deescalation of issues involving people with mental illness; expansion of DARE program, and city participation in drug court successes.
Councilor Harley Droba discussed Mastin's idea to provide a police blotter online, and Mastin provided additional ideas for increasing community engagement.
Mastin said the city's Facebook page gets a lot of attention.
Droba noted that all but about 30 percent of the information people dispense on Facebook is true, suggesting hosting town halls on issues that seem to draw a lot of social media comments to ensure facts and the truth are also getting out.