By Samuel Butterfass
Police Chief Joel Klein graduated from SJU in 1997 and started his career in law enforcement in 1998 in Albany, MN. He began his work with the St. Joe Police Department as a part time officer in 2001. He started full time in 2004. Klein has been the Police Chief of St. Joe since August of 2013. This semester, the St. Joe Police Department has bumped up enforcement in the community in an effort to cut down on complaints and incidents.
On Wednesday, Klein sat down with The Record and answered questions
regarding this and on his experience in St. Joe. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What’s it like coming back to police the college that you went to? Is it strange?
A: No, not really. I enjoy being here, I really do. I love it here, it’s a great town, and I will tell you, most of the college
students that we deal with are awesome. They’re great people. They have great personalities. They have great goals.
Q: What are your thoughts on the issues that have come up recently with off-campus students in St. Joseph?
A: The problem we came across last spring was with a very amped-up group of people. [They were] very disrespectful, not only towards police, but to the town itself. There was vandalism, and urinating in public, noise complaints damage complaints, garbage complaints, and just a real lack of respect towards people that live here. That got our attention.
Q: Is the behavior you’ve seen in St. Joe out of the ordinary? Is there any reason it might be getting worse?
A: It’s more than usual. I’m not exactly sure why. It may have had to do with the way the nation and the world are getting. There’s a lot of stuff going on, and obviously that affects people.
Q: Have you altered the way that you’re policing St. Joe?
A: No. We still enforce the same laws. I now have more officers on duty, so there’s more officers to handle situations. Unfortunately what ended up happening if there was only two officers on, the vibe we were getting is that if there wasn’t an officer watching you, that you could do what you want, which is very sad. I have a hard time with that. I’m proud of the college I went to, and I know there’s other alumni that are very proud of where they came from, and it’s disheartening to see people act and behave the way they do. I look at St. John’s and St. Ben’s as prestigious, I mean, they have a very good reputation. When stuff like this happens, it brings that down.
Q: Are there certain policies that you are making an effort to enforce more?
A: We are taking noise complaints more seriously. Instead of the noise warning being for that day only, we said you get a warning for the year. We do that with everybody. It’s all across town. You get one noise warning. If we come back, we have to write tickets. It was getting ridiculous. The next night it was the same thing, and the night after that it was the same thing. We get that there’s going to be some noise, and people are very receptive to saying ‘if it’s going to be a little noisy until 9 or 10 o’clock, we don’t have a problem with that.’ It’s after that, when people are trying to sleep that it ended up being a problem.
The other thing is that we came across a ton of fake I.D.s. Instead of just writing a ticket, we’ve been taking people to jail. If you’re going to give us a false name, either a fake one, or someone else’s name you automatically go to jail.
Q: Has your day-to-day changed because of the new enforcement?
A: I worked almost every saturday night until two weeks ago. I was in almost every Saturday, because if something’s going down, I’m going to be there, and we’re going to get it under control. That way Monday when people are calling and ask if I know what happened, I was there for it. My goal is for everyone to be safe and enjoy their experience and not have them get into a bind that creates a problem.
Q: Do you hope to not have this level of policing in the future?
A: Yes. We are just asking people to simply obey the law. I understand that there are people who are going to do things that are illegal, but one thing I ask for is to please be reasonable. If you’re walking in town late at night, don’t scream to people who are half a block away at one in the morning. Don’t talk to people so loudly that kids who are trying to sleep next door get scared of what’s going on and hide under the bed; we’ve had that happen. We want to make sure people are safe, and some people have mentioned that cops have been IDing people for no reason. That’s not the case, we have to have a reason. Quotas for tickets are illegal so we are not trying to write tickets.
Q: Do you feel that there is a different balance to policing a college community?
A: There is definitely competing interests, and we try to deal with that. I can’t only take care of the residents that live here full time, the college students also live here and need to be taken care of as well. It just so happens that sometimes people don’t know how to act when they’re on their own in college. We always give people that first chance to calm down, but sometimes we have to get a little verbal when we deal with someone because people don’t understand language. I can ask people to calm down until I’m blue in the face, but sometime all people understand is the f-bomb. So, I have to say “you need to effing calm down or I’m gonna kick your ass into the middle of next week and you’re gonna have bruises all over your body”. Of course we don’t do that—but sometimes that is the only talk they understand. If you get stopped by an officer, it will not do you any good to argue with them. Contrary to popular belief, we are not out to get people, we really aren’t.
Q: How do students from the college fit into the wider community of St. Joseph?
There’s a lot of great college students here who do a lot of good. It’s good for the community to have them. I stand up for students too. Some people in town don’t like the students but there are so many good people in the colleges. Our complaints have actually gone way down since having more officers, and I wish I didn’t have to do that. It’s okay to have a good time, just be reasonable about it, but that just wasn’t happening. I just want things to calm down so we can get to a point where I don’t have to have so many cops on every Saturday night. We have people who are good people here.