Key to making Minnesota safer: Call 911

When Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety Ramona Dohman was asked her No. 1 wish to make Minnesota safer, she quickly answered: Call 911 right away when you see anything or anyone suspicious, and call at any hour of any day.

Police chiefs in our suburban communities agree. Don’t hesitate to call when you see anything suspicious in your neighborhood. They’d rather have the call and check it out than learn about a crime the next day.

Many burglaries in the Twin Cities area communities have been solved because of “tips” to local police departments.

When these chiefs speak to the public, they preach the need to follow the saying “If you see something, say something,” a campaign being waged by Homeland Security to raise public awareness of terrorism and suspected terrorists.

So far in our area, tips have not led to suspected terrorists. A check with local police chiefs, however, reveals crimes, particularly daytime burglaries, have been solved thanks to tips from the public.

Edina Police Chief Jeff Long recalled when someone saw a teen loitering in a neighborhood called 911 and the teen turned out to be a burglar.

In Elk River, Police Chief Brad Rolfe said a woman got up in the middle of the night, looked out her window and saw a man peering in the window of another town house. Police responded and, thanks to a footprint that matched the shoes the guy was wearing, eventually eight burglaries were solved.

Police Chief Mike Risvold of Wayzata recalled a retailer who noticed a suspicious vehicle and on checking it out, police were able to identify and charge a burglar.

Sometimes people see things and don’t want to get involved or don’t think it’s important. For instance, Rohlf wishes a woman had called in the middle of the night when she saw someone pushing a snowmobile trailer down the street. The next day she learned about a theft of the trailer from a house near hers. That thief was never caught.

Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts has an amazing network of 700 block captains watching for anyone suspicious. Four hundred neighborhood groups are organized to keep their city safe. Now Potts is trying to organize the 2,000 businesses in the city to act when they see anyone doing strange things. Like other chiefs, Potts recalled a tip the police got, resulting in clearing up a number of burglaries.

Long said sometimes we make it easy for burglars by leaving car doors unlocked. He said 80 percent of thefts are from unlocked vehicles.

How will you know when to call police? You’ll know in “your gut” and from experience when there’s suspicious activity.

And like the slogan says, “If you see something, say something.”

You, too, could be a crime solver.

Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers and a member of the ECM Editorial Board.