The Columbia Heights Police Department is filling the airwaves with a podcast, “Roll Call,” that was launched last March in an effort to inform residents and other listeners about various public safety topics and issues.
The public safety personnel on the “Roll Call” roster include host Ben Sandell, who serves as the city of Columbia Heights’ communications coordinator, along with co-hosts Columbia Heights police officers Mohammed Farah and Tabitha Wood, who replaced former officer Darry Jones, who participated in the first four episodes of the podcast before leaving the department last June to move out of state. Cpt. Matt Markham often participates in the podcast but is not an official host.
The idea for a podcast was originally suggested by Columbia Heights Police Chief Lenny Austin a couple years ago during one of the department’s strategic planning meetings. Austin said during the first episode of “Roll Call” that the idea for a podcast sat on hold until it was revisited early last year after Austin had a conversation with Sandell, who volunteered to develop the podcast. One by one the rest of the officers and staff members volunteered to be a part of the project.
Markham said he came up with the podcast’s name “Roll Call,” which is law enforcement jargon where attendance and a briefing takes place at the beginning of each shift and outstanding information is passed along from the last shift to the officers starting the next shift.
Markham said the aim of “Roll Call” is to provide more transparency about all matters related to law enforcement and more specifically the Columbia Heights Police Department.
“We put a lot of information out there that we wouldn’t be able to do in a Facebook post or through our website,” Markham said. “Here we get to talk about some of these important things that are going on. So if you’re really interested in what your local police department is doing in Columbia Heights — and maybe outside of Columbia Heights — this is probably the best way to give specific details about things they’d normally never hear about.”
The “Roll Call” team meets bimonthly to record episodes in the Columbia Heights Public Safety Building training room, where they discuss law enforcement, community policing and public safety topics with special guests.
Farah described each of the episodes as a casual, open and honest, and often ad-libbed conversation between officers and the podcast’s guests.
“We do prepare for topics, but we’re not reading from a script,” Farah said. “We’re all speaking from experiences and from our minds. We’re trying to be as authentic and organic as possible without having any filter. It’s very important to have that kind of transparency.”
Farah said the team’s goal is to educate the public on all matters of law enforcement.
The first episode of “Roll Call” was an introduction to the podcast’s team. They then proceeded to talk about various policing topics including the Derek Chauvin trial, community policing and Columbia Heights’ new CodeRED system, an emergency alert system residents can sign up for at tinyurl.com/5h2us6ae.
During the second episode Wood, who was then a guest on the podcast, discussed female officers’ experiences on the police force.
In episode three, now retired Columbia Heights Sgt. Ted Fischer and new officer Tony Miller discussed the process of becoming a police officer now compared to 30 years ago and the differences in technology and training, all while sharing stories about their early experiences.
In episode four, Markham and Metro North Adult Basic Education Center program supervisor Kathleen Moriarty discussed a $15,000 grant funded partnership between the Columbia Heights Police Department and the Metro North Adult Basic Education Center (ABE) to form the National Constitution Project. The project, which was Chief Austin’s idea, involved members of the department and ABE teachers working and training at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia last summer. They were educated on historical, legal and enrichment topics about the United States Constitution and the “rights and responsibilities of community and police.” The main goal of the project was to improve civic dialogue and build an ABE curriculum, which was offered to ABE students for the first time last month.
In episode five, for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, the “Roll Call” team talked with Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo and Anoka County Victim/Witness Services Unit Manager Emily Douglas about the responsibilities of the County Attorney’s Office, particularly on how it handles domestic violence cases and how people can seek assistance in such cases.
In “Roll Call’s” sixth and most recent episode that premiered Dec. 28, the team spoke with Austin and Public Works Director Kevin Hansen about the city’s winter parking rules. Austin and Hansen then answered submitted questions from residents about winter parking.
All the episodes are recorded by city of Columbia Heights communications and events specialist Will Rottler and then edited by Sandell.
Sandell said as Columbia Heights’ communications coordinator, he believes the podcast “is a fun thing to do, and a good thing to do” to improve communications between law enforcement and the city’s residents.
To listen to the Columbia Heights Police Department “Roll Call” podcast, visit tinyurl.com/bdfyk82n or search the podcast on Spotify.