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February 01, 2012 | 07:52 AMLINN — Sometimes, people become cops because they like the action. They want to enforce the law, respond to calls, help people in need, write tickets.
Mark Cates, the town's new police chief, said that can be a healthy attitude, to some extent. But it's more important to stop and talk to people. It's more important to become involved in the community.
That's what he said is his main goal just days after the Linn Town Board appointed him the new chief.
"You have to enforce speeding laws and respond to calls, but you still need to not be afraid to stop and talk to people," Cates said during a recent interview. "I wouldn't say it's went away from that here, but … I'd like to try to get a little more involved in the community."
He said there are several reasons why a police officer should stop to talk to people. It shows people cops are human, too. And it's just a great way to be friendly.
Cates said it can even help them solve crimes.
A few years ago, a string of vehicle break-ins were reported in a Linn subdivision.
"They were getting into vehicles that were unlocked and one of the people I see regularly when I go into that area told me about (someone) who had seen a guy the night before carrying a CD case, like something you'd see on a (vehicle) sun visor," Cates said. "He didn't report it because although it seemed a little suspicious it didn't seem completely out of the ordinary."
Cates said he brought the information reported by this person back to the Linn Town Police Department. Then, he discovered one of the items reported stolen during the break-ins was a CD case which slips onto a sun visor. The person Cates had stopped to talk to had also reported the name of the person who had the case.
"It turned out this was the person who was going through vehicles at that time," Cates said. "Sometimes the smallest bit of information can help. It's just as simple as that. And when this person told me, it was just during conversation."
But stopping and talking to people appears to be one way Cates and his department work to become more a part of the community. He said it's the kind of thing a police department can always work on, but Linn Township itself presents a unique challenge for Cates.
"We're so spread out," he said.
The challenge is part geographical, part social. All walks of life — different income levels, different professional backgrounds — reside in Linn. It's an agricultural community, it's one with multimillion-dollar estates. There are homes practically built on top of each other in some areas. In others, houses sit on acres and acres of land.
Then there's Geneva Lake, which cuts the town into two sections typically referred to as the North Shore and South Shore regions. Much of the town, including Zenda, Linton and Traver and Reek schools, are on the South Shore. North Shore is where several lakeshore subdivisions are, where Chapel On The Hill is located.
Cates said he wants to not only reach out and have officers talk to more residents in the community. He said he wants them to speak to more business owners, too.
"I also want to be more involved on the north shore," Cates said. "When I'm (on patrol) there, if I see anybody working in their yard or something, I'll usually stop by and start talking to them."
Ways to reach
So how is the Linn Town Police Department going to reach all points across the population spectrum?
Linn police may employ a few different methods, some of which already are in play.
Cates spoke highly of the department's DARE program, which is operated by Linn officer James Bushey, calling it "great" because it fosters a local connection with children.
The program reaches Traver, Reek and Woods schools.
"I think it's very valuable that we do that," Cates said.
He also talked about social media and events. There may be increased police involvement in the town's largest community event — the Fire and EMS Department Pig Roast.
"That's the event where people from all over come together," Cates said.
He also said increasing involvement in the Linn Protective Services Committee's Halloween party is another option.
But what about organizing something new? Cates said he's open to the idea.
"It might be something to do in different areas," he said. "It's something we'd have to look into, maybe something on the north shore, something on the south shore."
Using social media is another likely option for the department.
On Facebook, the department has a government organization page and a group for the DARE program.
"You've got to embrace technology," Cates said. "Otherwise, you're going to be left behind."
As of Monday, however, the Linn Town Police Department had 31 likes and the DARE group 52 members.
But these are the challenges laid out for Cates, who became the new chief Jan. 10.
"I've got a lot to learn myself," he said. "I just want to be positive, upbeat."
Cates said he doesn't have a time line in place to meet certain goals because "it's going to be hard to gauge it."
"It's just going to be an ongoing work in progress," he said.
At least it appears Cates is well-suited to meet these challenges.
When asked if he's a "people person," he smiled and gave an affirmative answer.
"Anybody who knows me knows that's pretty much the way I am," Cates said.