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Time to pay for police calls?

As someone who has covered crime news for the better of 15 years, I've noticed a change just in that short time in the type of calls to police departments and sheriff's offices.

When I started, there was a healthy dose of alcohol-related violence, car accidents and robberies on the police blotter. The overall level of that type of call for service hasn't changed much over the years.

But one area that has exploded in that time is what a lot of departments call "public assist" or some other similarly named category. Think of it as the "serve" part of "to protect and serve."

A classic example of this type of call is the person who calls to report that his neighbor's dog has defecated on his lawn, or the neighbor's dog is barking.

Instead of being a call to police, this used to wind up as a call to the neighbor.

"Hey, Sparky did his business on my lawn," is how that conversation starts.

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry. I'll get it cleaned up right away," is usually how it ends.

No hard feelings. No need to involve police. Just neighbor talking to neighbor.

Unfortunately, many people don't know their neighbors very well nowadays. They somehow believe they're avoiding confrontation by letting the police handle the most minor of disputes. But most everyone would prefer a phone call from a neighbor rather than a visit from police.

In the same vein, I've noticed that schools today are relied on to care for a child's every need, teach them manners, make sure they're fed and clothed, etc., and the parents expect the school to do their job for them, rather than instilling morals and providing for the child themselves. But that's another editorial for another day.

The reason I bring up the frivolous calls to law enforcement is we have slowly come to believe the police should sort out the problems in our lives, the petty fights with an ex, the roaming dog, the loud music next door. If that's what we all desire, that's fine, but we'd better be prepared to pay higher taxes to fund it. Because every call about dog poop takes away from investigative or patrol time.

Instead, cities should explore using a fee-based call system, much like the city of Duluth put into place, and some fire departments use. If those who rely on the police the most had to help fund their budgets, they may attempt to resolve their own conflicts. If not, they should pay something for the service.

It may be wise to allow one free call, or figure out some system where no one fails to call police in a true emergency. But when the calls get to be excessive, the callers should pay something to contribute to the system.

People who call the police to report an intruder, a child in trouble, or a serious crime should know that an officer will be available to respond, and isn't playing marriage counselor or dog catcher for someone who doesn't really need the help.

This editorial was written by Steve Schulz, editor and publisher of the Pioneer Journal.