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Reporter Megan Buffington is attending the Grand Rapids City Government Academy this spring 2024 to help us all understand more about how our local governments function.

Grand Rapids Chief talks department structure, community policing

Lorie Shaull
Special to KAXE

Week Two of the Grand Rapids City Government Academy included presentations from Police Chief Andy Morgan, K-9 Murphy and violent crime enforcement Commander Greg Payment.

GRAND RAPIDS — Last week, Grand Rapids City Clerk Kim Gibeau promised a more exciting presentation at Week Two of the City Government Academy.

While I thought she undersold the excitement of city finances and statutory definitions, I have to concede she was right about at least one element of this week’s presentation.

The “Serving with Pride” session began with Grand Rapids K-9 Officer Justin Edmundson and his canine partner, a German shepherd named Murphy.

Murphy joined the department last year and assists in narcotics detection, criminal apprehension and building and suspect searches. He came from the Czech Republic, where dog breeding is taken very seriously.

Officers and their dogs normally meet a few weeks before training to have time to get to know one another. But Edmundson and Murphy met just a day-and-a-half before their 14-week training in Blaine began.

Murphy chomps on a tennis ball as Grand Rapids Police Officer Justin Edmundson brings him over to meet people at the City Government Academy at Grand Rapids City Hall on April 10, 2024.
Megan Buffington
Murphy chomps on a tennis ball as Grand Rapids Police Officer Justin Edmundson brings him over to meet people at the City Government Academy at Grand Rapids City Hall on April 10, 2024.

Murphy rode in a crate from Chicago, where his flight from the Czech Republic landed. When Edmundson arrived, his new partner’s crate had just tipped out of the van. Edmundson, who has always been a dog person, said there were two ways their meeting could have gone: the agitated Murphy bites as Edmundson pulls him from the crate, or they become instant best friends.

Luckily for Edmundson, it was the latter.

After overcoming a slight language barrier — Edmundson didn’t realize Murphy had been trained in Czech — the pair’s relationship only continued to strengthen. At training, Edmundson quickly learned what motivated Murphy. During a tracking activity, hot dogs were set out for the pups to follow because food is one of the two most common motivators for dogs. But after learning a ball — the other major motivator — waited at the end of the hot-dog trail, Murphy blew past the wieners in his next attempt, heading straight for the toy.

“He could care less about food,” Edmundson said.

When the department decided to get a K-9, they requested a dog that was friendly and on the smaller side. Murphy’s definitely a friendly dog... I wouldn’t describe him as small.

After the very good boy aced his narcotics detection demonstration for us, Officer Edmundson let him off the leash to say hello to everyone. In his excitement to chase a ball one of the officers bounced, his snout and my kneecap met head on. Over a week later, I still have the bruise to prove it.

About GRPD

Andy Morgan started as a patrol officer for the Grand Rapids Police Department in 2001, working his way up the ranks and becoming chief in 2023.

It’s normal for officers to stick around once they join GRPD. Morgan said in his 23 years with the department, only five people left to join other agencies, and three of those departures were within the last six months. Two left to join the Itasca County Sheriff’s Department and one the Minnesota State Patrol.

Grand Rapids is strongly committed to retention, Morgan said. The city offers a tuition reimbursement program, which is largely unheard of in small Minnesota cities. Officers also spend significantly more time training than is required of them. The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, which licenses police, requires 48 hours of training every three years. Grand Rapids officers average 104 hours a year.

“The city’s putting in thousands of dollars to keep employees engaged,” Morgan said.

When fully staffed, the department has 20 officers, including eight patrol officers, four sergeants, two investigators and two captains.

Grand Rapids Police Department

Two patrol officers work under a sergeant and the teams are rotated every two years.

Community Resource Officer Carl Fischer is a non-sworn member of the department who handles everything from animals and blight investigations to vehicle lockouts and house checks.

“For our patrol officers, he’s Johnny on the spot,” Morgan said.

The department also has two school resource officers, but this team will decrease to one next year because of school budget cuts.

The support staff and volunteer reserve unit are also important parts of GRPD. The department’s two support staff members monitor the front door to city hall, issue permits to purchase firearms, manage case files and data requests and transcribe field audio.

Officers work 12-hour shifts from either 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. or noon to midnight. They work half of the days in the two-week pay period in a two-days on, two-days off, five-days on, five-days off schedule.

GRPD averages 10,000 calls a year, and patrol officers take 97% of the call volume. Morgan also shared that just over 2,000 vehicles were stopped last year, and, contrary to what some may think, only 30% of stops resulted in a citation.

Greg Payment, commander of the Aitkin-Itasca-Mille Lacs Violent Crimes Enforcement Team, also gave a brief presentation about the team’s work.

Established in 2022, the joint venture is one of 22 violent crime enforcement teams in the state. It is made up of the Aitkin, Itasca and Mille Lacs sheriff’s offices and the Grand Rapids and Aitkin police. Minnesota VCETs receive state and federal grant funding with the goal to “increase the identification and arrest of serious law violators,” especially related to drugs and gangs.

Payment said before the team formed, there was communication between departments about violent crime, but they lacked the time to work and meet together.

In 2022 and 2023, Payment said they seized $1.77 million worth of drugs, almost $70,000 in cash and 66 firearms. Most of their work was in Itasca County.

While “cocaine is on a comeback” and fentanyl remains pervasive, Payment said methamphetamine is the most common drug they encounter.

Chief Morgan finished the night by sharing his department’s goals: review staffing levels, improve partnerships, explore new technology, consider expanding the officer wellness program and resume and expand community events.

Morgan discussed the importance of remaining a part of the community through presentations and events like youth safety camp, National Night Out and shop with a hero.

“Rapids has always had a strong history with community policing and community connection,” Morgan said. “At the same time, it’s not something you can cut corners on.

Megan Buffington joined the KAXE newsroom in 2024 after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Pequot Lakes, she is passionate about educating and empowering communities through local reporting.