Ramsey County Sheriff’s outreach center opens to reduce violence among youth, community

The new Community Outreach Office, located at the southeast corner of Rice and Sycamore streets in St. Paul, is now open to Ramsey County youth to get help and resources to deter violence. (courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriffís Office)

The same area that saw a shooting just nine months ago was filled with chalk drawings from children after National Night Out. Some of the writing outside Tin Cup’s on Rice Street in St. Paul said, “I love you” and “You can have a better life.” (Amy Felegy photos/Review)

A message of hope adorned the sidewalk outside Tin Cup’s, just a few blocks down from the new Ramsey County Sheriff’s Community Outreach Office.

Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office officials and Rice Street neighbors gathered on Aug. 5 for the grand opening of the department’s new Community Outreach Office. Electric bikes will be used to patrol the area and reach out to youth. (courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriffís Office)

The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office opened a new Community Outreach Office on Rice and Sycamore streets in St. Paul to curb violence and crime. 

It hosted a grand opening event there on Aug. 5. 

The sheriff’s office said it’s part of a much-needed push to “build trust and relationships, strengthen partnerships, and work together for safe neighborhoods.”

The opening came after Rice Street and east side St. Paul neighbors voiced concerns about a spike in crime. Gidget Bailey, owner of Tin Cup’s bar and grill in the 1000 block of Rice Street, nearly left her business after her son was put in danger by a November shooting in a nearby parking lot.

After the shooting, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher suggested adding a police substation in Tin Cup’s basement to encourage Bailey to stay, saying it wasn’t acceptable to force strong community tenants out because of crime. 

Fletcher said he wanted to find an accessible spot for people with disabilities, saying that was the biggest hurdle. Five months and six potential locations later, he found a spot down the street from the bar. As for Bailey and her restaruant, she said she feels much safer.

“We’re happy it’s here,” she said. “There’s three or four bars on our corridor open until one or two [in the morning], so [the sheriff’s office] will also be helping to make sure that our businesses are receiving safety measures.”

Increased police presence will be felt in the form of deputies on electric bikes, giving the neighborhood the old “beat cop” concept combined with 21st century technology. Instead of biking, walking and promptly getting physically tired, the sheriff’s office thinks electric bikes are more functional. 

Fletcher said it’s just one of many resources and intervention tactics being introduced to push back against local teenage crime.

“It’s designed to impact those kids that were thinking about getting into gang activity, making sure they choose a better path,” he said. “And of course we have a lot of kids struggling out there because of economics, education, social dynamics — so showing them there’s a window out of that gang activity was very important to me.”

Fletcher said building trusting relationships with the community has become critical, especially after the high-profile fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. The shooting’s fifth anniversary was Aug. 9.


Community building

The new outreach office will be staffed with three service officers who plan to work with children, teens and neighbors throughout Ramsey County, specifically near Rice Street. More employees may be added pending county board approval.

Fletcher said he wants to keep the building open to serve and connect with the public as often as he can. He said an increased street presence will reduce crime and make people less impulsive with violence.

“This needed to be a part of the Rice Street future,” he said.

The small building previously used as a Dairy Queen is right across the parking lot from Ace Auto Parts, at 754 Rice St. The auto parts store owns the space and uses the lot to sell used cars, but the small building wasn’t being used. Employees at the auto store said it only made sense to donate use of the small building to the sheriff’s department.

“Anything to help the community, really. We’re all for it,” said Rob Kloek with Ace Auto Parts. “It wasn’t being used so we thought it would be a good use of our space to help the community.”

Neighbors are responding well to the new services. They say it’s a step in the right direction in making the area safer. 

“I love it. I think it’s great,” said Brent Thompson, who has lived in the neighborhood for seven years. “We’re right there on the corner here. I think that’ll work great for this neighborhood.”

Others who live on the same block weren’t aware of the new outreach office but are glad to hear more police will be just down the road.

“A couple years ago it was not really safe, but now it looks pretty good. We don’t really have many problems here,” said Angel Diaz, who has lived in the same house just doors down from the outreach office for 15 years. “But I think if they put the sheriff’s department in there, it should be better. I think we agree with that.”

Still showing brightly a few mornings after St. Paul’s National Night Out on Aug. 6, chalk drawings and messages of community filled the sidewalk outside Tin Cup’s. And that’s not the only thing warming Bailey’s heart.

“The other thing that is beautiful about this is [Fletcher] made a promise,” she said. “And you know what? He upheld his promise to our community. So that’s beautiful.”


–Amy Felegy can be reached at afelegy@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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