I started writing these guest columns in 2017. The topics have changed, but an overall theme has been that the Redwood Falls Police Department belongs to the citizens of Redwood Falls.

I always encourage people to stop in, call or simply interact with an officer when you see them. These interactions are important. They build connections between citizens and officers.

I believe it’s these connections that are the foundation for a healthy relationship between the community and the police department.

Over the past decade there have been a lot of high-profile incidents in the state and national media where police actions were questioned. I’m not going to defend or attack any particular incident or police decision, but as I’ve researched and followed these incidents there appears to be a common trait among them: a breakdown in the relationship between law enforcement and the community they serve.

The reasons for the breakdown can be debated, but they appear to be specific to their geographic location. Surely, the media has played a role in highlighting, and perhaps unintentionally promoting, the breakdown. Whatever the root causes are, law enforcement and their communities are now paying the price for that breakdown.

In the early 90s for every police officer vacancy there were typically 100 to 200 applicants. Recent police officer hiring processes in Redwood Falls typically received 30-40 applicants for each vacancy. Many of those applicants, for a variety of reasons, were eliminated before making it to the testing stage. We aren’t alone. Police departments throughout the country are experiencing a shortage of officers and applicants.

The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association has taken this issue head on with a public awareness campaign called “Wear The Badge.” It is a series of short videos highlighting officers throughout the State of Minnesota and how they came to be officers. The goal of the series is to humanize the men and women in law enforcement and show the public the various reasons and paths people took to get into a law enforcement career.

The Redwood Falls Police Department has begun posting a “Wear The Badge” video to our Facebook page each month.I encourage you to watch these videos, share them with friends and family and encourage young people you know to get to know local officers.

These videos are an opportunity to build a connection to the younger generation, and maybe, if we’re lucky, convince a few of them to consider joining what I consider one of the most honorable professions in this country.

– Jason Cotner serves as chief for the Redwood Falls Police Department