Coffee with a Cop program helps community get to know law enforcement

Police department is in need of reserve officers

By Bruce Karnick

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“Coffee with a Cop” was an event held on Monday, July 18 at the McDonald’s in Hastings. The event was to give residents a chance to interact with members of the Hastings Police force, get to know them and ask questions.

Initially, there were three officers: Deputy Chief Bryan Schowalter, Community Engagement Officer Whitney Rinowski, and Commander Kyle Linscheid were on hand to talk with residents in a fun way.

The conversation kicked off with just a few people in attendance but by 10 a.m., there were significantly more. Plus, additional officers joined the first three, Officer Paul Young and Investigator Chad Schlichte. Those officers walked around the lobby of McDonald’s and hung out with patrons. The environment was very relaxed and had many laughs going along with some very good questions offered by the residents.

At the main table, the topics started around the school resource officer.

“Our school resource officer is, without a doubt, one of the busiest officers we have. A good portion of it is just answering questions, clarifying, and assisting with what's going on in their lives. Then a portion of it is dealing with criminal nature. They do a phenomenal job. They spend an entire day just wading through juvenile issues and it's a taxing process. I give them a lot of credit,” explained Schowalter.

An added benefit of the SRO is if there is a call in the community around the student and their family, there is already a relationship with the police department and the student or family. That gives them extra insight in how to handle the call. The officers are not going into the situation completely blind or needing to reinvent the wheel.

The conversation then turned to how the three officers decided to get into law enforcement.

“Sure, I can go first,” laughed Schowalter. “I've been with Hastings for a little over 16 years. I started April of ’06. I spent four years on patrol. I went to the drug task force for fourandahalf years. I came back from the drug task force, and I was promoted to sergeant. I spent a total of five years as Sergeant between my time on the drug task force and the time on the patrol. And then in 2017, I was promoted to Commander and then I stayed commander until May 30 of this year where I was promoted to Deputy Chief. I’ve only been in my current position just over a month. The reason I started… I grew up in a community not too far from here. I knew all the police officers as a kid, and they were awesome. They would stop and talk to us. On weekends in the wintertime, we used to go to a local park and play hockey until well after curfew. We were able to turn the lights on outside, the officers would come and sometimes they'd play hockey with us even though we're there after curfew and lights on and they would say, ‘OK guys, that's enough. Turn the lights off and you have to go home.’ Just knowing all the officers growing up was kind of inspiring to me, and then my uncle was a police officer. Just hearing his stories and some of the stuff he did, it was really kind of a draw for me. I got started later in life. I wasn't hired until I was almost 33 years old. I didn't go to school for law enforcement fulltime until I was 28. So, I'm kind of a late bloomer. I came from the construction trades. I kind of followed the path of the rest of my family and got into construction and then I was hired right before I was 33, and I have been with Hastings the whole time. I love it here. It’s a good community and good department to work for. I've been very fortunate. A lot of that is due to timing, you know, just when certain positions became available. I was at the right point of my progression to take advantage of it.”

Linscheid went next. “I have been here just under 14 years, August 11 will be my 14year anniversary. The first three years I was on patrol. And then I went from there to the school resource officer position where I spent another three years, then straight from the school resource officer position I went to the drug task force for threeandahalf years. I came out of there back to patrol and was promoted to a patrol sergeant. The last three years as a sergeant have also been on the South Metro SWAT team as a negotiator. I just recently stepped down and I spent a total of just under five years as a sergeant and then I'm in my third week as a commander with the police department. A lot has been thrown at me in the last couple of weeks. It’s been kind of busy with Rivertown Days and things like that. Timing is interesting. I grew up in St. Paul next to a St. Paul Police officer. He used to come home with the squad. I looked up to him, and I'm actually pretty similar to Bryan. I've been lucky with timing, a combination of luck and hard work and being dedicated to it but I just wanted to help people and honestly it looked fun. Like there's a lot of things in this job that you see and some is not so great, but some is fun. I really wanted to help people.”

“I am the community engagement officer here at Hastings,” explained Rinowski. “I started my career in 2014. I've been here for a little over eight years. I was doing mostly patrol up until the position opened for the community engagement officer. I've been doing that for the last yearandahalf. It's taken me off the road but it's gotten me deeper in the community, embedded in the community a lot more. The reason why I wanted to be in law enforcement actually came about when I was 3. Why? I have no idea. I do not have a family of law enforcement, so, it's not like I have any family influences. My family is from all different backgrounds as far as professions go, but I've worked towards that goal since the age of 3. I stayed out of trouble, kept my nose clean. I actually went and got my Bachelor's Degree in sociology and psychology in the event that law enforcement didn't work out for me. Once I was done with that, I then came back and put my time into my twoyear for criminal justice degree and then was hired on in 2014.”

The wonderful part of the CEO position is that Rinowski has a rolodex full of resources for the community to help when needed. It’s a position where the focus is a helping hand, rather than enforcement. Of course, other officers do a great job helping folks around Hastings, and Rinowski can still issue tickets, but the emphasis is certainly on providing resources to those in need.

“For example, we had one individual that had enforcement contact 30 times in like an eightmonth period. That is an overabundance usage of services, whether that's EMS fire, law enforcement officials, and so something obviously was wrong. What is the solution to that? We were able to get in contact with some resources, and that call load has dropped off the face of the earth,” added Rinowski.

The conversation shifted to what kind of calls does Hastings PD handle? Are there spots that are not as safe? Or certain types of call that dominate the landscape? Schowalter explained that he did not feel there were any true areas of Hastings that people feel less safe, it is more of a matter of property theft type calls that every community faces, such as catalytic converter thefts or other stolen property because people leave valuables in their car and then leave the doors unlocked.

There was also talk about the fentanyl crisis in communities all over the nation. Again, much like other communities, fentanyl has made its way into Hastings, and HPD is ready. Every officer has access to Narcan, a counteracting agent to overdoses of narcotics and the training of how to use it. Rinowski stated she has had to administer it six times in her career. Schowalter explained that HPD is able to outfit every patrol car with Narcan thanks to grants from the last three years.

Another great topic was the public engagement aspect. How do the officers get out in front of the community as humans, not just law enforcement officers?

Every second and fourth Wednesday in the summer months, they host “Recreation, Arts, and Police” events at the Levee Park which is free to attend. August 2, there is the National Night Out event where neighborhoods can host their own party and request a visit from Police/Fire/EMS. The city also does a largescale event at Lions Park for the areas in town that cannot organize their own. National Police Week is another huge event for HPD where they partner with other area emergency services to put on a display in downtown Hastings for families to explore all the equipment used by the various organizations. They also give tours of their facilities to local groups like the Boy Scouts. They also partner with local groups like Hastings Family Service, the Hastings Area Rotary Club, United Way of Hastings, IDEA, Thrive and more. Add to that, all the times they hold classes at the senior living centers to help protect them from scammers, the Dairy Queen ‘I got caught’ tickets for properly wearing a helmet while biking, rollerblading, or riding a scooter, or the stops at a kid’s lemonade stand, HPD does a great job engaging the community in positive ways.

HPD also has had successes with bike rodeos for kids at school along with a helmet donation program from Alina Clinic. With that program, they have helmets they can give to kids who may not otherwise be able to have one for whatever reason.

Along with the paid officers, HPD is in desperate need of reservists, ideally 1215 reservists would be available for Hastings to utilize but they are currently down to five.

“There are many times where we've had maybe a really bad car accident so we need to close down multiple blocks. We don't have the resources, so we call the reserves at 1 a.m. They come out, grab the reserve truck, trailer, barricades and they come out and start blocking roads for us and redirecting traffic so the benefits they provide are really immeasurable. They're a phenomenal resource,” explained Schowalter.

Reservists are usually people interested in a career in law enforcement. The advantage of being a reserve officer is the training the department provides and the reallife experience. A reservist may handle low level medical calls or help officers with other things, all valuable knowledge for becoming an officer.

Overall, the event was a success. More than 20 citizens spent the better part of two hours with several of our officers getting to know each other. It was a wonderful event with no true guidelines or set schedule other than starting at 9 a.m. and ending two hours later. If you did not make this one, keep your eyes open for the next, you will enjoy it.

Commander Kyle Linscheid, Deputy Chief Bryan Schowalter, Community Engagement Officer Whitney Rinowski, Officer Paul Young and Investigator Chad Schlichte pose with aspiring officer Will Gozola at the recent Coffee with a Cop event at Hastings McDonalds. Photo by Bruce Karnick

Five Hastings Police Officers, members of the Public Safety Commission, members of the Parks and Rec Commission, city staff and Mayor Mary Fasbender met with members of the community to enjoy Coffee with a Cop. The event was an opportunity for community members to get to know their officers better. Photo by Bruce Karnick

July 20, 2022