new

Roger New

in as the new chief of police in Eagan nearly two years ago.

He knew it would be a challenging job. He’d been with the department for 24 years at that point.

He was taking over the Police Department in a community that was growing. The Minnesota Vikings were about to open their first training camp in Eagan.

More businesses were coming to town in developments such as Central Park Commons and the Twin Cities Premium Outlets.

Population was on the rise.

“I can say that we’ve haven’t been on cruise control,” New said. “The last year, the volume of things we’ve encountered, it’s been a lot ... My hair is turning gray.”

The past 12 months have been a whirlwind for New.

“We had an officer-involved shooting (Isak Aden) and the Patrick Vitek accident,” New said. “Both incidents, there was community backlash. We’re still working through a pandemic, which is creating some implications for a downturn to the economy. And the George Floyd incident created some backlash for the profession and some of that has filtered our way. We’ve had a busy year. To suggest staff may be a bit fatigued, it’s easy to say that’s the case.”

As one of three Black police chiefs in Minnesota, New has been a part of several discussions about his roles as a police chief and a Black man during the past month.

“I’m comfortable in saying that shouldn’t have happened and that was a failure of the police profession,” New said of Floyd’s May 25 death while under restraint by Minneapolis officers.

He’s spoken with many chiefs and fellow officers in Dakota County about his experience both in and out of the uniform.

“I have a unique perspective,” New said. “I can share stories as a police chief and being a police officer and the verbal trauma we experience as a police officer. But I also experience that verbal trauma when I take my uniform off ... I can share my stories as a police officer, but I can probably tell far more stories of being an African American man and my experience in all walks of life.”

He asks people to pause before they make reckless statements.

“Law enforcement has a bullseye on our back right now,” New said. “We do. But the sentiments that you hear being talked about in society right now, it’s not just policing. I think we can all do better. I think all walks of life can do better. I challenge you to take an actionable step forward. Police reform is an important discussion. We are all in agreement to look at this with an open mind.”

His advice?

“The most important thing is to end these reckless comments,” New said. “I find people are too worried to say what’s on their mind instead of taking the time to listen and process what’s on their mind.”

With that bullseye on their back, he said he’s proud of the Eagan Police Department staff and their resiliency.

“They take pride in keeping citizens safe,” he said. “They’re carrying around a lot of stress.”

He’s hoping to foster more situations where people can listen to one another.

The city formed a Community Affairs group about five years ago. It’s held a number of meetings where trained moderators lead small-group discussions on police-community relations.

“The question was posed to us, ‘What are we doing for diversity training?’ ” New said. “We didn’t have the best answer. So we had officers receive implicit-bias training and instruct others. Every new hire receives implicit-bias training.”

While working within the restrictions of COVID-19, he said police are putting together another community conversation night.

“We’re trying to do somethings to address those issues and concerns,” New said. “How do we move this forward? Let’s get leadership in law enforcement, the private sector, the public sector, education, corrections. Let’s see what the plan is moving forward.”

While nothing is scheduled yet due to restrictions, he said the best place to find out about the upcoming event is either the city website or the Eagan Police Department Facebook site.

He said he’s also working on a Youth Leadership Academy with the Vikings and with the Citizens Academy.

That’s all on top of his regular duties.

The department moved back into a remodeled and expanded police station last fall.

The department is also in the midst of studying body cameras, which should be fully implemented soon.

Businesses are opening back up. The Vikings are returning to their Eagan headquarters. Traffic congestion is slowly returning.

New also needs to hire new officers.

Near the end of this year, he’s anticipating a number of retirements among the leadership and officer ranks.

New said between replacing retiring officers and filling new positions, he feels like he’s constantly recruiting new officers.

The city also created five new full-time positions in 2019 and another in 2020, he said.

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