SPPD to Payne-Phalen: How are we doing?

What crimes have you seen in your neighborhood? Do you feel safe walking around after dark? Have you ever seen something shady but didn't know if it was worth calling police?

The St. Paul Police Department wants to know the answers.

A pilot project aimed at reducing crime and increasing the sense of safety is asking some Payne-Phalen residents for their opinions.

The St. Paul Police Department, Ramsey County Attorney's Office and the St. Paul City Attorney's Office have joined forces for the Intelligence Led Policing Through Community Policing, Community Prosecution and Community Participation project, or IL3CP for short.

"We ask them to basically critique us and where they see we can improve," said Cmdr. Jill McRae of the St. Paul Police Department-Eastern District, "And we're open to the answers."

A pilot project
IL3CP focuses on six different "grid" areas spanning the lower half of District 5, basically the area bordered by Interstate 35E, Maryland Avenue, Earl Street and Minnehaha Avenue.

Headed by McRae, the local arm of this national project began Dec. 1. It uses community meetings and citizen surveys to increase communication between the government agencies and residents, and hopefully reduce crime in the area.

Also, another community prosecutor has been added to the Eastern District as part of the project, McRae said. The community prosecutors assist police officers and the community with quality of life concerns and prosecution.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police approached the St. Paul police with the project since St. Paul fit the IL3CP's criteria for size, crime rate and number of officers, said McRae.

Newport News, Va., and Mesa, Ariz., are also participating in the pilot project.

Asking the right questions
IL3CP had a very difficult time narrowing down all the questions it wanted to ask the local community, McRae said. The project sought to get as much information as possible, but didn't want the survey to be overwhelming, either. IL3CP decided on a 10-question survey, available in Hmong, Spanish and English, which takes up one side of a sheet of paper.

The survey was mailed to residents in the area as well as distributed at the outreach meetings conducted by IL3CP and the Payne-Phalen District 5 Planning Council.

The survey helps measure residents' satisfaction with police, prosecution and overall feelings about safety, according to the information sheet included with the survey.

"Crime reduction is the No. 1 goal," McRae said. "We really need to know what's going on in their neighborhood if we want to help them."

For example, question five asks residents to list the top three concerns or problems that the St. Paul Police Department should be working on.

Question one asks residents to name the top three problems they see in their neighborhood. There are 10 available answers with options on the nuisance side, such as noise and littering, to more severe concerns, like gangs and drug dealing. Residents can also list something if it is not already an option.

Other questions ask residents to rate how safe they feel in the neighborhood during the day and after dark, how often they have been the victim of a crime in the last year and how they feel about their encounters with police.

Strengthening relationships
McRae said IL3CP is encouraging the community to "take their neighborhood back and have more control over how safe they feel."

Many people at the outreach meetings said they didn't want to bother the police with their problems or concerns, or aren't sure if some incidents were worth reporting, McRae said.

But McRae assured the extra eyes and ears of residents can make a big difference. "We stress to make sure they call us if they think something's not right in their neighborhood."

Sgt. Paul Paulos, the department's new police officer media contact, has done similar community and intelligence-led policing initiatives in downtown St. Paul, but said IL3CP takes it a step further.

"We're going to get down really to the basics so that we become a one-on-one policing factor," he said. "When you know (an officer's) name rather than their badge or car number, it strengthens trust."

That trust between police officers and the community can build a closer relationship, Paulos said. The community and officers can give each other feedback and find the most productive and long-lasting solutions together.

The project's increased communication between agencies will help the community as well. For example, IL3CP can explore alternative routes to charging or alternative sentencing after charging, "initiatives or programs to hopefully keep (offenders) on the right track," McRae said.

These alternatives could allow offenders to do a kind of restorative service to the community rather than being incarcerated.

"We're just trying to make sure that we can try some different things and be open to talking to different people," McRae said of IL3CP.

The voice of a neighborhood
So far, the independent research company tabulating survey responses told IL3CP it has gotten a 21-percent response rate. That's more than the 15 percent expected and there is still time left for more responses to arrive.

"We're thrilled with that so far," McRae said. "That just means (residents) care about their neighborhood."

McRae expects to receive the survey responses by the end of the month. Then the police and attorneys' offices will review them, determine what needs to change and look for new ways to address community problems and concerns.

IL3CP then aims to improve the community through working with residents and the new or changed ways of policing.

The survey responses will also help reveal crime patterns, like particular issues, addresses and people with whom the neighborhood is having repeat problems, said McRae.

The police department will send out another survey after six months to gather feedback on the changes and see if things have improved.

What the future holds
IL3CP is only going on in part of District 5 right now, but that could change.

It could go district-wide or even citywide depending of the end review by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in June. But that depends on the survey's success and available funding, McRae pointed out. Also, the project is better suited for some neighborhoods than others.

Kaitlyn Egan can be reached at kegan@lillienews.com or 651-748-7816.