September 20, 2007

Inspector Lucy Gerold Takes Command of the Third Precinct

When Inspector Lucy Gerold took command of the Third Precinct last fall, it marked a return to home territory for her. Gerold, a lifelong Minneapolis resident, has  deep roots in the Precinct. For the last 13 years, she has lived in Seward, and as a child she lived near Powderhorn Park, where her family had a decidedly different attitude toward safety than she’d recommend today. “When I was young and lived [there], we still left our doors unlocked,” says Gerold, with a rueful laugh. “I can remember the first time we were burglarized--they just came in through an unlocked door and went through my dad’s dresser. ”   After earning her BA in housing and community development at the University of Minnesota, she spent time working on ways to reduce crime through environmental design in various housing projects in the city. In the 1970s, she lived in and served on the board of the nonprofit housing development that eventually became Little Earth.

But Gerold, who also holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Concordia, says that she always knew she wanted to be a cop. She began her career in law enforcement as a civilian in the late 1970s, working as a crime prevention specialist for the city of Minneapolis. In 1991, she joined the police department’s Community Services Bureau, where she worked with community crime prevention and school programs.   Finally, in 1997, she graduated from the police academy and began to wear a uniform. Since then, she has served as chief deputy/director of four different bureaus and as the commander of the 5th Precinct.

Policing for and with the community

Given her hybrid background in community development and law enforcement, it is perhaps no surprise that Gerold is a staunch proponent of community policing. Indeed, during the 1980s, she was a key architect of Minneapolis’s first community policing program. Twenty years later, she remains its strong advocate, and readily articulates a clear vision of modern community policing. “I can tell you what it is not:  it is not a program, it is not foot patrol, it is not bike patrols. Those are things that we do, but to me, community policing is how we police,” she says. “It is both philosophical and operational--it means that we see ourselves working in partnership with [the larger community] to create safety and security. ”  

According to Gerold, by embracing community policing, law enforcement acknowledges that the community is an integral part of the process of identifying problems and their solutions. “I think our whole society is moving much more to a collaborate model, and realizing that it really does take all of us with our diversity of ideas, skills and abilities to deal with the complexities of today’s world,” she says.  “Community policing means that we [the police] see ourselves as a partner to collaborate with everyone to create a safe and secure community. Really, it is contemporary policing. ” 

In Gerold’s view, one benefit of this broader definition of “policing” is the expanded universe of resources that naturally follows.   “I think of ‘resources’ as broader than just the cops and crime prevention specialists and others that work for the Third Precinct,” she explains. “’Resources’ include the business community, residents, block leaders, neighborhood associations, churches, Weed and Seed, and the cops. ”  She cites the Precinct’s response to a recent spurt of destructive activity by a group of juveniles along several blocks in East Phillips as a good example of community policing that drew from a broad spectrum of resources. “We met with the block club at the Precinct and asked the community to do a number things; we also had landlords present, because some were housing problem tenants and needed to take action,” says Gerold. “We also asked probation to use some of the resource they have, such as interventions and social services for people who are causing problems. ”  The Precinct also worked with Mad Dads, who patrolled the area and were able to achieve some fence-mending and relationship-building between some of the kids and the adult residents in the wake of the concentrated, institutional intervention. In fact, the neighborhood block club--which had declined to participate in Neighborhood Night Out this year because of the ongoing tension--is now planning a block party to celebrate the changed atmosphere and restored stability.

Gerold describes this kind of opportunity to foster partnerships as one of the greatest satisfactions of her job. “Strong cities, strong communities, and strong neighborhoods are built by the strong partnerships that work to improve them,” she says. “As a precinct commander, [you] can be a bully pulpit . . . to pull all of those resources and partnerships together and to really create effective change. ”  Her belief in a partnership approach also informs her management style inside the station house. During her first few months on the job, she devoted many hours learning about the Precinct and the people who work there. She invited her officers to sit down with her, one-on-one, and talk about what was working and what could be improved. Over 75% of them took her up on the offer, and she says that she not only learned a great deal, but also helped to set the tone for a team approach that the officers can carry out to the community.  

New approaches to old challenges

As for priorities for the Precinct, Gerold plans to continue to support ongoing initiatives such as the Midtown Security Collaborative and the Safety Center, and to maintain a careful and strategic deployment of new technology.   She also has her eye trained on continued reductions in violent crime, and on controlling the kinds of low-level criminality that, left unchecked, can mushroom into problems. Since assuming command, she has redirected the Community Response Team to concentrate on the two biggest livability issues in the neighborhood:   prostitution and street-level drug dealing. “Prostitution is a high priority for me because it has such a negative impact on peoples’ perception of a neighborhood,” she explains. “Prostitutes are usually drug-involved and they attract other unsavory characters, and it has a very negative effect. ”  Like many, she is frustrated by prostitution’s seeming intractability.    “Back when I was a street cop, I worked as the decoy prostitute on 13th and Lake,” she recalls. “Ten years later, nothing seems to have changed and it makes me angry. To some people, this is perceived as a marketplace for prostitution . . . and I want to change that. ”  

With typical thoughtfulness, Gerold recognizes that it is not enough just to publicly announce that the neighborhood won’t tolerate prostitution, even if it’s backed up with vigorous enforcement. "Telling people what a neighborhood is not doesn’t work very well,” she observes. “We have to tell them what it is:  an ethnically diverse, vibrant neighborhood with a great marketplace, where people should want to come. Telling people that will change the image to what we want it to be, and that is what we have to work toward. ” 

Phillips and the future

When asked about her view of Phillips’ future, Gerold is quick to point to the tremendous improvements along Franklin and at Chicago and Lake as an example of the possibilities. “I am heartened by the group of residents—both renters and homeowners--who want to see Phillips be a strong neighborhood, and who work closely through community associations, neighborhood associations, or with us to try to make that happen,” she says. But she is also realistic about the need to develop greater economic diversity in the neighborhood, and notes the pressing need to address housing in East Phillips. “We need to increase the homeownership in East Philips and do something about the housing maintenance and rehab [there] so that there is a sense of pride and ownership,” she says. “If we can do all that, in twenty years, all of Phillips can be a strong community, both ethnically diverse and economically diverse, with a solid business core. ”