MN police chief's Facebook plea to homeless person leads to White House invite

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Lee Sjolander is somewhat of an anomaly as far as police chiefs go.

The city he looks after, Kenyon in southeast Minnesota, is home to just over 1,800 people, yet the police department's Facebook page is followed by almost 24,000 people.

It's probably because of posts like this on Monday, in which the police chief told the story of the moment he came upon the belongings of a local who's been squatting in a storm shelter.

Sjolander reached out to to the person via the Facebook page, gently reminding them he is tasked with upholding the law, but at the same time he offered them access to food and some "nicer blankets" that could "help you during this difficult time."

"While my heart breaks for you, I have to tell you that you cannot stay here," Chief Sjolander writes. "The person in charge of this property has asked that you find somewhere else to stay. I wish I had options for you, but being a small town, you know how limited that is."

Here's his full post:

White House takes notice

Word of Chief Sjolander's post went beyond the page's Facebook followers – in fact it made it all the way to the White House.

Shortly after posting it, he received an email requesting his presence at a White House briefing, which according to MPR will involve representatives of U.S. police departments discussing ways to build public trust and confidence in the U.S. justice system.

Even so, Chief Sjolander was reluctant to attend, saying: "Like a lot of people, I struggle with feeling worthy at times, and taking part in something like this involves a lot of people, and resources that I don't feel entitled to."

But he was urged to go and represent his city by his wife, the city administrator, the Kenyon mayor and his pastor – not to mention the staff at Rochester Men's Wearhouse, who helped him find some suitable attire.

Why so popular?

The Rochester Post Bulletin reported last year on how support for the Kenyon PD's Facebook page grew after it took up a challenge from Duluth PD to see which department could become the "most liked" in the state – with the winner getting a donut.

The personal stories shared by police on the page obviously strike a chord with readers, who interact with, "like" and share the posts in their hundreds.

"Your own life experiences are what make you good or bad," Sjolander told the newspaper. "If I can share my past, I think it makes me a bit more solid. People are surprised to learn that cops don't have to be hard-nosed, fast-charging all the time, especially in a small town. There has to be other ways to deal with stuff."

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