HIBBING — In their squad cars and uniforms, on-duty Hibbing Police officers are easy to identify. But when their shift ends and officers swap their duty belts for daily duds, they’re harder to pick out of a crowd.
Local residents and the surrounding communities had the opportunity to get some one-on-one, face-to-face time with local law enforcement over a cup of coffee on Tuesday afternoon at Caribou Coffee in Hibbing.
The sun shone brightly as a small group of on-duty and off-duty officers gathered for casual conversation just outside of Caribou Coffee. Officer Joe Burns played a fierce game of tug with K-9 Chase and bursts of laughter filtered through the air.
Inside, Police Chief Steve Estey, Deputy Chief Tyler Schwerzler, and Investigator Rachael Sheik chatted with community members scattered at various tables and couches in the coffee shop. The mood was equally as light.
“This is just a continuation of how we’re trying to interact with the community more,” Estey explained. Estey, who assumed the role of the chief of police in February of this year, has taken steps to encourage the department to get out into the community. He calls it “humanizing the badge.” His goal is to help community members to see the people who wear the police badge as community members, neighbors and friends who, much like themselves, have a job to do.
“Our guys are getting more into it as they implement the community stop-ins at sporting events, parks, whatever it may be,” said Estey, who added that they’ve really seen the benefits to the community because of it.
“The better we can work with the community, the more we can do,” Sheik added.
Current Hibbing City Councilor and retired St. Louis County Deputy Lieutenant Tim Harkonen smiled as he sipped his coffee and chatted with folks. He was there as a city councilor and was complimentary towards events such as this and National Night Out, which has been held and hosted by HPD annually in August.
“This is great,” said Harkonen, adding that he’s “seen more positive comments on social media” following community-building events such as these.
Estey hinted that more good things are on the horizon in the coming months. Plans are in the works to bring the department up to 28 (fully-staffed) and reinstate someone as a Drug Task Force Officer.
“It’s been about two or three years since we’ve had a Drug Task Force Officer and its really needed in the community,” Estey said. “Drug problems are Iron Range problems and as Iron Range communities, we need to work together to enforce that.”
A Drug Task Force officer would work closely with the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office and task force officers in Duluth and Virginia to try to get controlled substances like meth and heroin off the streets.
As always, Estey encouraged anyone needing to talk to a police officer to call his department. “Call 911. Even for the most minute thing. Our dispatchers are trained to determine if there’s an emergency and how to process the call,” Estey said.
Outside of Caribou Coffee, Darcie Norton smiled in the sun as she chatted with on and off-duty officers. “My husband is the chaplain for the police department and I’m supportive and appreciative of their hard work,” she said.
Tristan Stonich, of Chisholm, chimed in that she saw it as a great opportunity for her son, James Olson, to build a trusting relationship with police officers. Olson, who’s a first grader thought it was pretty neat, “Chase is cool,” he said.
And building trusting relationships are what events like this are all about. “We’re building this community policing mentality one day at a time,” Estey said. “We truly care.”