Letter: Serving with distinction

Published 8:30 pm Friday, May 19, 2023

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Call it criminology 101 mixed with policing scenarios and interactive, in-depth “protect and serve” sessions. This course is Albert Lea Police Department’s (ALPD) Citizen’s Academy, and I highly recommend it.

From the meticulous DWI investigations to the selfless service within the reserve program, this take-a-citizen-to-work course provided a first-hand account of policing.

A major takeaway is that our law enforcement professionals love their job and exude passion regarding their specialty. The camaraderie and collegiality among the ALPD were ever-present, as was their diligence to protect the rights of both innocent and accused.

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Take Lt. Jeffrey Strom, for example. He’s everything people had told me about him — respectful, dedicated and hard-working. I witnessed first-hand his astute decision-making while investigating possible crimes. I noted the ingrained ethics and empathy needed in today’s law enforcement. My hope is for every police department to have a Strom. If so, citizens would have more trust in law enforcement.

After going on patrol with Strom, I thought too many legislative barriers exist to get criminals — certainly drug-related criminals — off our streets. And I factored in the all-important probable cause need. I questioned who gets more protection — the criminal or the victim. Studying the issues further taught me that Minnesota is a probation state, offering steps to a better life. However, chance after second chance, re-offenders face limited accountability.

Judges need to put domestic and sexual abusers in jail with stronger sentencing. The more relaxed sentencing for DWI offenses is also troubling.

The ALPD reports that the crime rate dropped to the lowest level in five years in 2022. However, the statistic that needs attention is the 9.5% increase in lesser crimes, such as vandalism, substandard properties and drug crimes. These crimes create victims and diminish the reputation of Albert Lea.

During the course, we openly discussed bad actors in law enforcement and their lasting harm. I never lost sight of the racial injustices in the U.S. law enforcement and judicial systems. Much more work is needed to instill trust and safety for people of color.

What is clear for Albert Leans is that our community is strong, resilient and well-served. The caliber of talent in the ALPD is striking, such as Detective Sy Vanthavong’s acumen with investigations and the dedication of the dispatch team. Next year, Officer Kristen Steinberg will lead future Citizen’s Academies. This strong, smart woman can own a room and hold her own. I see her inspiring young girls to do the same, which will benefit law enforcement.

Martha Jones Sichko
Albert Lea