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Superior scores SPD

The Superior Police Department and its chief, Nicholas Alexander, earned high marks from the public in the inaugural Superior Police Department Community Survey. According to the results, the majority of respondents appreciated Alexander's leadership and felt the department had earned their trust.

"The overall strong feeling that the police department is doing a good job serving the needs of the community and that the officers of this department are kind and caring, and treat people professionally, that's a big positive," Alexander said. "It didn't surprise me. That's the work I see daily."

Five hundred citizens responded to the survey. Administered by University of Wisconsin-Superior students, it was designed to gauge public perspective on what's working for the department, what's not and what could improve.

Although there was a lot of positive feedback for the chief, the professionalism of officers and department response time, the community saw room for improvement in communication, evening patrols, resource management, traffic control and response to both the growing drug crisis and mental health interventions.

"Some of the comments focused on improvement had to do with things I think we do a good job on, but there's obviously not that level of awareness out there," Alexander said, such as community policing and use of technology. "It's probably on us to do a little bit better job of advertising."

The students offered eight recommendations based on the survey results, including increased training related to mental health and drug response issues as well as diversity and cultural awareness and more options for public involvement.

"Superior is interested in the work of SPD and we recommend that the department look for more opportunities to actively invite and engage the community in your future planning and visioning exercises," the UWS students wrote.

The issue of diversity will be addressed at 3 p.m. Thursday when the department swears in its first officer of color, Ronald Robinson of Superior. Building a more diverse police force has been one of Alexander's goals since day one.

"I'm pretty excited and looking forward to the opportunities it's going to bring for the department, hopefully the city as well, and pave the way for the future," Alexander said.

Two other new officers will be sworn in at the ceremony, Patrick Deignan of Duluth and Charles Mahlen of Danbury, one of the UWS students who crafted the survey.

"He started this research project as part of his Policy and Reform class and that was well before we'd even taken applications for employment here," the chief said. "And then in December when you had to apply, he did."

Of the 13 new officers Alexander's hired since becoming chief, 11 have been UWS students. He expects to hire another five to six in the next two years.

"Within five years, I will have made the final hiring decision on half the department," Alexander said.

The UWS students recommended repeating the survey every three years, and working to extend its reach. Alexander said they'd like to build one that could be easily taken on a cell phone. He was impressed with the work the students did — more than 400 hours was put into the project.

"If I were to translate that into hours of my staff time, it would be tens of thousands of dollars and then you don't have the transparency of having an outside agency, an outside organization involved in it," the chief said. "I think it brought a greater sense of anonymity to it."

The majority of initial respondents were longtime Superior residents who owned their own home and were either employed or retired. An overwhelming 94 percent of those completing the survey were Caucasian and 66 percent of them said they had been a victim of crime in Superior.

"When you talk about an alarming take away, that struck me as a pretty high percent," Alexander said.

The five largest respondent neighborhoods were Billings Park, East End, South End, downtown and Central Park.

When asked to identify areas of the city where the department should increase officer presence, 23.8 percent of respondents chose North End and 23.5 percent chose downtown. The areas with the next highest numbers were Billings Park at 11 percent and East End with 9.8 percent.

"I think this was a good first step to letting the community know that these aren't closed doors and windows here," Alexander said. "I think that's one of the underlying goals here is to demonstrate transparency to the community and we are interested in their input in matters of how we serve this community."

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