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Video: Willmar PD finds appreciation for its outreach efforts downtown

Willmar Police Explorers Mohamed Ahmed, from left, Joe Schaefbauer, Brittany Schlecht and Brianna Norby cross Litchfield Avenue at Fifth Street Southwest early this month when they began distribution of educational brochures to downtown Willmar businesses and residents. (RAND MIDDLETON | TRIBUNE)2 / 3
Willmar Police Sgt. Michael Jahnke, shown earlier this month in downtown Willmar, says reaction has been positive to an educational brochure about how state laws, city ordinances and other guidelines apply in downtown. (RAND MIDDLETON | TRIBUNE) 3 / 3

WILLMAR — Sgt. Mike Jahnke says downtown businesses and people who live downtown appreciate the Willmar Police Department’s recent effort to educate the public about proper conduct in the downtown business district.

The Police Department developed an educational brochure this summer in response to complaints about garbage, illegal parking, stop sign and traffic violations, litter and other problems in the downtown. The brochure explains state laws, city ordinances and guidelines.

“The businesses and the people that live downtown seemed to appreciate it over the summer since we started it,’’ Jahnke said.

The brochure is intended to inform people about the rules affecting downtown. The brochures are given to downtown residents, and to businesses owners who are encouraged to give the brochures to their customers.

“It was just another effort to let all the businesses know — because there are a lot of people that live down there, too, a lot of rental units — just to let them know what the rules are so there isn’t so much conflict between the businesses and the people that live down there,’’ he said.

Because downtown businesses and renters are ethnically diverse, the brochures are printed in Spanish, Somali and English. They are being distributed by police officers, the Police Department’s community service officers and by young people in the department’s 15-member Explorer post, including a Somali student who helps interpret. Jahnke is the Explorer post lead adviser.

The Police Explorer Program is part of the national Boy Scouts of America Career Exploring Program, which gives young adults exposure to certain careers.

Brianna Norby, an Explorer and a senior at the DREAM Technical Academy charter school in Willmar, applauded the effort.

“Myself and friends like to go downtown when we have some time together because some of the best food found in the city is here. You get to see a different side of things, too,’’ she said.

Joe Schaefbauer, a senior at Willmar Senior High School and Explorer captain, said, “We are making another presence downtown, along with the community service officers. People see us down here and know that we care about the community and what is important. There are a lot of questions and making these brochures about laws, city ordinances and guidelines available is a good deal for everyone.”

The downtown business district is defined as the area bounded by Trott Avenue on the south; Seventh Street Southwest on the west; Highway 12 bypass and Pacific Avenue on the north; and First Street on the east.

Jahnke said downtown, statistically speaking, is the safest place in the city. Although some people may not believe it, “I can attest to it myself.’’

Jahnke has been with the department for about 22 years. He said downtown has always been a busy place and always had people living in apartments above the businesses. The large number of downtown residents adds to the parking issues.

“But once the rules are known, that’s the purpose of the brochure, to educate the people. The far majority will comply now that they know what the rules are: businesses and people that live there alike,’’ he said.

The brochures help improve communications between the police and downtown businesses and residents.

“It has helped us address other problems that come up. It could be small things, maybe nothing illegal, but just become a sore point with people about what’s occurring,’’ Jahnke said. “I think it’s made a difference this year. Obviously, consistency over time will be the test.’’

The brochures also present a friendly, assisting face so that people know that enforcement is not the only action police are going to take downtown.

“We want to build rapport,’’ Jahnke said. “A lot of issues can be dealt with just simply by mediating things, which is often what the police do on a regular basis everywhere.’’

Rand Middleton contributed to this story.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150