Winona police department looking to add community outreach officers

WINONA, Minn. (WKBT) - The Winona police department is looking to improve community involvement.

The department is proposing adding two officers dedicated to community-outreach policing. The officers would spend most of their time getting to know city residents.

As it moves forward with its own program, the department is looking to La Crosse's success with its neighborhood resource officers.

"The biggest thing is getting into those neighborhoods,” La Crosse police Captain Jason Melby said, "getting to know people there, and then really honing into what's affecting that community."

Six neighborhood resource officers, also called NROs, focus on one of three specific La Crosse neighborhoods as teams of two, hanging out with residents and kids, but also addressing neighborhood-specific issues.

"One hour they might be at a neighborhood association meeting, and then two hours later, they might focusing some attention around a particular house that's suspected of dealing drugs,” Melby said.

Melby said since the NRO program began in 2014, he's gotten a lot of positive feedback – so much so, he said, the department has gained a reputation for the program.

"The response has been tremendous,” he said. "We're honored."

Now, the Winona police department is using La Crosse as an example as they aim to add two of their own community outreach officers.

"I think this change would be great for our department,” Officer Nick Quimby of the Winona police department said.

Quimby said public respect for police in general has gone down the past few years.

"This program will help with building relationships," he said.

As part of the program, patrol officers would rotate as the two community outreach officers, covering the entire city.

"To get boots on the ground, to meet people, talk to people, to make us human,” Quimby said.

Quimby said the officers would spend time building relationships with neighborhood residents, business owners, but most importantly, kids.

"If we can influence the kids young and not make them afraid of us, that's huge for years to come,” he said.

For a two-person community outreach officer team, the Winona police department plans to take one officer off of normal patrol shifts and add an additional officer position, and they would also need to purchase another squad car. In total, that would cost around $140,000, and the department is currently applying for grants.

The department presented an early proposal to the city, and Quimby said they've received positive feedback so far.

If all goes as planned, Winona could have community outreach officers as early as the new year.

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