Photo by Ryan Howard

For Wyoming Chief of Public Safety Paul Hoppe, who has been with the city for 10 years, community engagement has always been a central policing tenet.

When Paul Hoppe arrived at his first day on the job in the city of Wyoming on May 11, 2009, he was coming to a city working to transition from its rural past into a more developed future. On his first day as Wyoming Police Chief 10 years ago, the Police Department was headquartered in the back of a mechanic’s garage, had a staff of seven people, and was working with only a couple of computers. Most of its records were on paper, organized in voluminous file cabinets.

Hoppe isn’t badmouthing the old way of doing things; it was just that the system needed to change. The city was fresh off its merger with Wyoming Township and needed to adjust to providing city services – police included – to a new overall population of more than 7,000 people, more than double what the city was serving prior to the merger.

Fortunately, whenever Hoppe plans, he does so five steps – or, often, five years – ahead.

“I’m a very strategic thinker,” he said.

Today, a lot has changed. The Police Department has digitized its records and added five more positions, including a crime analyst. Wyoming police have become known nationwide for their community engagement efforts, most notably through the department’s prolific and jokey social media pages. In 2012, the police and fire services were reorganized to both come under the auspices of a Public Safety Department, of which Hoppe is the chief. Hoppe has had a vision for what public safety in Wyoming should look like, now and in the future, but he’s quick to downplay his individual role in the proceedings.

“I think we’ve come an extremely long ways in the last 10 years, and none of it would be possible without the support of the community, the involvement of our City Council ... and equally important, the professionalism of our staff,” he said.

Hoppe, who grew up in the Afton area, served in the Oak Park Heights Police Department for 17 years prior to landing the job in Wyoming (before that, he’d also served the sheriff’s offices in Washington and Hennepin counties). Then a sergeant, he’d wanted to move into a chief position, but he also saw in Wyoming a police department that would be in need of a strong vision.

“The post-merger really set the city up for some unique opportunity,” he recalled.

The former township residents were used to police service from the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office. In addition to managing that transition, Hoppe said, Wyoming also seemed primed for economic growth after the merger – a potential that was dampened somewhat after the late-2000s recession but one that the city is working to reignite today.

Beyond those circumstantial reasons for choosing Wyoming, the city has always presented a unique challenge for law enforcement. Thanks to its location at the crossroads of Interstate Highway 35 and U.S. Highway 8, Wyoming police are often policing more people than the city’s roughly 8,000 in population.

“We get a lot of unique police activity here,” Hoppe said.

Hoppe saw those challenges and adapted the department to meet them, a process he said is still happening today. Perhaps the most visible of the changes, if you were to visit the police station, is the way the department processes information. The digitization of police records not only removed clutter and made processing information faster, but it lends itself to the tracking of crime trends, allowing the city’s police coverage to be more proactive. The city’s crime analyst helps the department dig into the information, disseminating evidence to investigators, deciphering data and identifying burgeoning crime trends – for example, looking for similar crimes occurring in a certain area, allowing the department to prepare to meet the threat.

“If we can trend it and predict it, we can actually deploy resources more effectively to try to prevent it,” Hoppe said.

The increased efficiency also extends to the Department of Public Safety setup. Hoppe said the changeover has allowed police and fire services to pool their resources, operate with the same vision under a combined leadership team, and communicate better about what personnel are needed where during large public safety calls.

“It really allows us to manage those resources more cohesively,” he said.

While Hoppe’s inner efficiency wonk is pleased by those administrative changes, ultimately the initiative he views as the most important step for police services is the department’s increased community engagement. Today, the police have a friendly, familiar relationship with the community and can quickly and easily get important public safety notices out around town, thanks to Hoppe’s commitment to get police involved in the community and the department’s affable online presence. The Wyoming Police Twitter and Facebook accounts are famous for peppering their followers with a combination of jokes, announcements, and requests for public assistance. Recent posts on the @wyomingpd Twitter account at press time included a memorial for fallen DNR Officer Eugene Wynn, a request that residents keep an eye out for a missing vehicle, and a joke about setting munchies traps for marijuana users – the latter posted on the unofficial marijuana holiday of April 20.

“It really is a partnership,” Hoppe said. “As a department head, it’s my responsibility to work closely with the community so I can understand what the community needs are.”

People are taking notice. In addition to the department’s nationally known social media presence – @wyomingpd boasts around 40,000 followers – the Wyoming Police Department just became the first department to ever receive Excellence in Innovation Award from the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association in two consecutive years. Last year, the department was awarded for its social media usage, and this year, it was recognized for its Growth Through Opportunity program, which teams up the department with intellectually disabled volunteers. The program allows police to learn more about interacting with intellectually and developmentally disabled people while providing their volunteers with valuable job and social skills. (The Times wrote more about the origins of the program last summer in a story that can be found online at tinyurl.com/y6hxra4h.)

That collaborative relationship extends to Hoppe’s interactions with the Wyoming City Council. Hoppe views his work with the council as a duty to help the council define its goals and then execute the council members’ vision. His working relationship with the city is so positive that when he mounted a run for the Washington County sheriff last year – he lives in Scandia and described the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as “my home department” – multiple Wyoming office holders past and present endorsed or supported him, albeit regretfully, as nobody seemed to want him to go.

“The loss of Paul Hoppe would be a huge loss to the city of Wyoming, where I am a resident,” former Wyoming Mayor Eric Peterson wrote in a Forest Lake Times letter to the editor published Oct. 25. “But, as a former resident of Washington County, ... I can tell you that Paul Hoppe would be a huge asset to all of the communities throughout Washington County.”

Hoppe lost to Dan Starry in that election, but the endorsements touched him, gave him a sign that his relationship-building efforts had a positive impact on the community.

“These aren’t easy jobs by any means. ... You really have to be able to work with people,” he said.

Hoppe’s had a long career. While retirement isn’t imminent by any means, he predicted he has less than 10 years left in law enforcement. To keep things running smoothly in Wyoming, he must look at ways to plan himself out of a job with minimal transitional turmoil.

“[I’m] trying to set this organization up to continue succeeding in whatever direction it goes after I’m gone,” he said.

Is it a strange feeling to prepare for a future that won’t need him? Not really. For one thing, he has a lot of faith in the entire Public Safety Department, from sworn officers to administrative staff.

“My 10 years that I’ve been here, ... most of the success that we’ve seen here in Wyoming has come because of our staff,” he said.

Beyond that, however, Hoppe said he’s uninterested in prioritizing personal glory over organizational success. It’s just not strategic thinking.

“I think great leaders are always looking at attrition and making sure the organization exists and succeeds even beyond them,” he said. “I think that’s what makes great leaders, that they’re not threatened by that.”

Ryan Howard has been the news editor of The Forest Lake Times since 2014.

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