Program aims to bridge gap between cops and kids

Patrolling the Greenway
Officers Mark Klukow and Mike Kirchen spend the beginning of their shift on the Midtown Greenway.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Tuesday night is National Night Out, and thousands of Minneapolis residents will be at block parties and cookouts.

Also attending will be dozens of law enforcement officials promoting what they call Community-Oriented Policing. Among them are two Minneapolis police officers who've taken the concept one step further.

Minneapolis police officials say a visible police force is a key factor to public safety. The presence of uniformed officers makes law-abiding residents feel more at ease and makes law breakers think twice about committing crime. But in many parts of town all people see are officers driving by in squad cars.

Lately, that's been changing as more officers like Mark Klukow and Mike Kirchen have climbed out of the squad cars and mounted bicycles. Klukow said being on a bike makes it easier to make contact with people who may be sitting in their front yard on a pleasant summer day.

"Today, even right now people -- just the visibility -- people see you and if they don't spark up a conversation, we will," Klukow said.

Klukow and Kirchen decided to go one step further and created a program called Bike Cops for Kids.

Officers Mark Klukow (left) and Mike Kirchen
Officers Mark Klukow (left) and Mike Kirchen created a program called Bike Cops for Kids. Both officers work in Minneapolis public schools and they wanted to keep a connection with kids during the summer break.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

The program is their summer project. Both officers work in Minneapolis public schools and they wanted to keep a connection with kids during the summer break. Klukow said he and Kirchen decided to ride around and give away free bike helmets to kids.

"We talked more and more about it, we like to be on bikes and that's the best way to connect," he said. "And bike helmets, there aren't any helmets up there. You never see a kid wearing a helmet."

Klukow said if they see a kid wearing one of the helmets they've given out, that's when they give the kid a bike. He said they have about 30 bikes.

The two applied for a grant and got $11,000 to pay for helmets and bikes. They started out in north Minneapolis, but the program has sparked interest from other funders and may be expanded to south Minneapolis as well.

A typical summer night's patrol takes them along the Midtown Greenway for a couple hours. Officer Klukow pulls a two-wheeled trailer full of bike helmets and there's a sign on the back of it advertising the Bike Cops for Kids blog.

Mike Kirchen has been on the force for 17 years. For the last seven, he served as Mayor R.T. Rybak's security detail. Kirchen said he jumped at the chance to work in the schools. The officers said relationships between police and citizens can lead to residents tipping officers off about crimes in their neighborhoods.

While out on a recent patrol, a woman walking her dog along the path flagged the officers down and said she just saw a group of kids smoking pot along the Greenway.

A few minutes down the road the officers came across about six teenage boys and girls walking along the path. Two of the young men have glassy, red-eyes.

Klukow and Kirchen asked the young men to turn around and put their hands up against a fence. The young men politely complied. The officers pat them down and find an empty pot pipe but no marijuana. The officers checked IDs and discover that the oldest of the group is 21 and the youngest is 14.

Klukow and Kirchen didn't ticket or arrest the young men. Instead they confiscated the pipe and tell them to stay off the Greenway. They also tell the older guys to clean it up around the kid. Kirchen said he hopes they'll take the advice to heart.

"They were with a 14-year-old and these guys are 21 and 19," he said. "How's this 14-year-old going to turn out now? Hanging out with these guys down here on the Greenway smoking weed? What's next for him?"

Keeping the Greenway safe
Officers Klukow and Kirchen stopped some young men along the Greenway who were suspected of smoking marijuana under a bridge near the bike path. The officers confiscate a pipe and tell them they'll let them go if they stay off the Greenway.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

The officers said there are a couple positives they hope will come out of the incident. One, that the young men will change their behavior; and two, that passersby will have taken notice of the officers' presence on the Greenway.

That's exactly what Kirchen said he and his partner will be doing Tuesday night during National Night Out.

"We're going to start at 15th and Morgan," Kirchen said. "It's a great, older lady. The people in the neighborhood call her 'Mama G,' we always start there. She has the best spaghetti and peach cobbler."

Kirchen said they will ride around the north side to as many block parties as they can get to. They said it's one of the best ways for police officers and community members to meet and build relationships. It's also a good way for a bike cop to work off a lot of peach cobbler.

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