The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 22, 2013

Afghan visitors learn about community policing

Visit kept secret for delegates' safety

Dan Nienaber

---- — MANKATO — A delegation of Afghan police, prosecutors, judges and lawyers were in Mankato early this week to learn more about community policing, but Public Safety Director Todd Miller had to wait a day after the visit to let the public know due to safety concerns.

The delegation was the second to visit Mankato through the U.S. Department of State's International Visitors Leadership Program. A visit from a Brazil delegation in November included talking with leaders from a variety of organizations, a tour of the city and media coverage.

This time the visit had to be kept secret because the delegates didn't want their names known or their photographs taken because they didn't want that information getting into the wrong hands in Afghanistan, Miller said. So they stayed in the downtown Public Safety Center and only visited with local police officers and representatives from Blue Earth County Community Corrections.

"They were very impressed with what we were doing here in Mankato," he said.

There was a lot of interest in community policing and the Department of Public Safety's involvement with Mankato's Tapestry Project, a program that helps immigrants transition into their new lives in the United States. Firefighters and police officers provide presentations about fire safety, how rules for child discipline differ here from their home country, what's expected of a good neighbor and all-around safety in public.

Josh Milow, Blue Earth County Community Corrections director, also told the delegation about how the county's probation system works. He focused on a partnership with Mankato police that sends a police officer and a probation agent to visit with people on probation through the court system. The officer and agent make sure the person is following the rules of probation, such as not using alcohol or other drugs, while getting to know them as a person. It's not uncommon for the officer and agent to also meet with the person's family and neighbors.

"It's not just about catching people doing something wrong," Milow said. "It's also about building relationships. What the research tells us is, if we really want people to make long-term changes, they are going to do it in the community not in prison. But, if they are not accountable, they will be back in jail or prison."

The only state with fewer people in prison, per capita, than Minnesota is Maine, Milow said. There are between 9,000 and 9,500 people in Minnesota prisons each day compared to an average of 23,000 prisoners in Wisconsin, even though the crime rates in the two states are about the same, he said. If Minnesota added that many people to its prison system, about seven new prisons would have to be built.

Afghan visitors operate under Sharia, or Islamic law, so they don't have as much leeway as individual states in the U.S. do with their laws, Miller said. But one delegate did say that the community policing and probation models being used in Mankato fit with the teachings of the Quran.

"They said we are doing what the Quran teaches by making a difference in people's lives," Miller said. "These are people who are trying to make changes."

Most people want the abilit to keep themselves and their families safe and the opportunity to live decently, no matter where they are from, he said. The delegation is visiting several other U.S. cities to learn about how things are done elsewhere.

"You just present different ideas and if they stick, they stick," Miller said.