St. Cloud's new police station is a house they built

It'll host barbecues as well as cops' offices

St. Cloud is celebrating the opening of a new community center on the city's south side with a carnival where one of the attractions is a chance to drop a police officer into a dunk tank

But the dunkings are sure to be good natured. After all, these cops are the new neighbors in the 'hood. Their building is the Community OutPost, also known as the COP House. 

St. Cloud is taking a page out of Racine, Wisconsin's playbook. A couple decades ago police there decided to try a new approach. As the city puts it: "Rather than saturating a high crime area with officers ... they moved in, literally."

In St. Cloud that meant tearing down a problem property in the neighborhood and building a two-story house that contains offices for a nurse and a social service worker, as well as four cops. 

It's not just offices, though. There's space for the neighbors to have get-togethers. Plans include job fairs, English classes, and barbecues, the Star Tribune reports, with volunteers coming by to help mentor youngsters and kids dropping in to play games

Building relationships

The idea behind a COP House is that it brings services where the need is and strengthens the relationship between law enforcement and the people they're serving. 

St. Cloud's been planning its house for a couple years and broke ground on it last fall. 

"We made sure we engaged the community and asked them what their particular needs are, instead of telling them," Chief Blair Anderson told KNSI this week. "And we're going to be responsive to what this part of the city needs and bring it to them."

The City of Racine says after its first COP House opened there was a 70 percent drop in violent crime in the neighborhood. They now have six COP Houses and the city says it's a sought-after assignment among police officers.

Paid for with donations

The cost of building the house was about $400,000, according to the Greater St. Cloud Safety Foundation, which oversaw the project. 

But most of the work of building it was donated, so those in-kind contributions covered $250,000. The rest of the money came from donations, including a $75,000 gift from the St. Cloud Rotary Club.

Groups are already starting to book events at the COP House – St. Cloud Soup will be there on Sunday. But first there are some police officers to be dunked.

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