La Crescent Police Chief Doug Stavenau doesn’t like red tape.
“Everybody has their own styles of policing, but a lot of what drives me, is the fact that I’m just as frustrated by bureaucracy as anybody,” Stavenau said recently in his office. “So part of the appeal for working for a small town is that it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Stavenau joined the La Crescent police department 20 years ago after graduating from Winona State University. He still remembers spotting the small classified ad posted in the Winona Daily News stating that La Crescent was hiring officers.
At the time, helped by an infusion of federal funding, La Crescent was transitioning to a 24-hour department and was looking for two rookie officers.
He remembers that it was also around the time that “community policing” was becoming popular. To him, that simply meant the kind of small town policing that has always existed in places like La Crescent.
Stavenau explains policing in the same way a friendly mechanic would describe a repair, which is coincidentally the job he thinks he would have pursued if it weren’t for law enforcement.
The La Crescent PD still makes an effort to help people out with small things, like unlocking cars with keys locked inside, the chief said . Stavenau also said the department tries to avoid issuing tickets for the small things, like over-parking in the downtown district, because those kind of citations only make people frustrated with the police.
But if the style of policing in La Crescent is similar in some way to when he joined the force, other things have changed immeasurably. Police now spend more time dealing with mental health issues, and the the chief believes attitudes toward the police have changed for the worse.
“Something has changed in society, or the dynamics of the area, that’s made our call volume increase way more than what is was when I first started,” said Stavenau. “In the last few years, we’ve seen more and more violent calls, and the harder drugs we would find occasionally in the past, we find more frequently now.”
Except for the time between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m., all seven of the La Crescent officers, including Stavenau, respond to calls alone. To deal with what the chief said is an increase in mental health calls, all officers staffed by the La Crescent PD have undergone 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training.
CIT is designed to help police officers react appropriately to situations involving mental illness or developmental disability, and CIT trained officers are specially trained to recognize and verbally deescalate situations with someone experiencing a mental health crisis.
Stavenau said he’s confident in his department to handle mental health calls, but because there is no mental health facility in town, and no reciprocity with the hospitals in La Crosse — the La Crescent officers drive to Winona or Rochester when someone requires hospitalization.
The chief, who grew up in eight miles west of Mankato in the small city of Nicollet, laments what he sees as the negative attitude much of the public has taken toward the police.
“I think across the board, especially with the younger generations, media has influenced some people to think cops have to be the man, and that they are the frontline and representation of oppression,” said Stavenau. “I think there’s a whole culture now that believes you shouldn’t do anything to cooperate with cops, because they don’t serve a purpose other than to wreck your individualism or whatever you were trying to achieve.”’
“One of Doug’s strong suites as the police chief is his ability to communicate, and his willingness to communicate,” said mayor Mike Poellinger. “And he’s been very willing to get involved in all sorts of service clubs and after school activities, and I think that’s always a good thing because when people see you out of uniform, still there and still involved, I think it shows commitment and that you care.”
“One of the advantages of having Doug as the police chief is that he started as just a police officer in La Crescent, and worked his way up,” said Poellinger. “So he understands what a night shift is all about, and what the job really entails, and I think that really helps as an administrator.”