The new year arrives with new leadership in the St. Louis Park Police Department. Retiring police chief John Luse and police deputy chief Kirk DiLorenzo, representing 39 and 36 years with the department, respectively, sat down with me in late 2016 to discuss past, present and future and to share a few final words of respect, gratitude and hope for the city they have served for so long.
Service in a Unique City
Chief Luse began his journey to a near-40-year police career with a liberal arts degree from St. Thomas University and a master’s degree from St. Mary’s, followed by attendance at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) Training Academy in Arden Hills. His experience includes patrol officer and sergeant; he became police chief in 1997. Deputy chief DiLorenzo graduated from Minnesota State University-Mankato and the academy. He also began his career as a patrol officer and was sergeant, lieutenant and captain before accepting the job of deputy chief in 2006. “You just kind of know it’s time” for retirement, says DiLorenzo. “I can’t complain. I’ve been treated very well by St. Louis Park and its citizens.”
Luse agrees. “It’s been a blessing to work here,” he says. “This is an incredible city. The strength of our school and community partnerships are amazing. The men and women I work with are excellent. I couldn’t be prouder.” DiLorenzo adds that St. Louis Park is a unique city that is very good at “reinvestment and reinvention. St. Louis Park has always gone to great lengths to make sure its infrastructure doesn’t decline.”
“It means something if a window is broken and no one fixes it,” says Luse, adding that timely city building inspection has helped police in St. Louis Park do their job. “There’s a combination of visionary people in our city government and a little bit of risk-taking, too,” says Luse. “From the police side, the people we hire want to work in St. Louis Park. They care about the community. That’s why we’re successful.”
“Hope is not a strategy…
…but respect for every individual is,” says Luse. As chief, his job was “trying to live in tomorrow,” he says, figuring out what’s next for staffing, equipment and policy. His biggest responsibility, he says, was keeping a tie-in with the community. At his time of departure, the department had just completed a survey followed by meetings in churches and schools in every one of St. Louis Park’s 36 neighborhoods. “Our challenge is customer service,” he says. That varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, he says, adding that in some areas of the city where many new Americans live, part of customer service is simply informing people about differences in policing in their country of origin vs. in St. Louis Park. Delivery of customer service has also changed with the incorporation of new technology and the need to be relevant in social media. “This city has embraced it all,” says DiLorenzo.
Regarding the current national sense of unrest between police and the communities they serve, Luse returns to the idea of strategy: “Every day, every contact, treat people with respect.” Both Luse and DiLorenzo speak with pride about lawn signs found throughout St. Louis Park neighborhoods: “Thank You, SLP Police Department.” In response, police published a note in the Sun Sailor, thanking the community for their support. “It is difficult to express the gratitude these signs have symbolized to our officers as they patrol the city,” the notice says.
St. Louis Park city manager Tom Harmening has known both Luse and DiLorenzo since 1995, and worked closely with them since 2004. He cites community-oriented policing (COP) as one of Luse’s greatest achievements in his position as chief. “John said, ‘We’re going to embrace thisCOP,’” Harmening recalls, and in spite of some early resistance, COP is “now entirely and deeply engrained in our police department.” COP replaces reactionary with proactive policing, says Harmening, including “getting out of the car, working with people, developing relationships.”
“My family understands that retirement, for me, is kind of bittersweet,” admits Luse. DiLorenzo suspects he’ll “miss the people the most.” Luse agrees, adding that it’s hard to separate the people from the work. Both men are looking forward to spending more time with their spouses (DiLorenzo scuba diving—“Neither of us is winter people,” he confesses, and Luse on “the trip of a lifetime to Italy” he has promised his wife). They are also proud parents: DiLorenzo anticipates more time with his three sons and grandchildren, Luse with his two grown daughters. And although they have many hobbies between them, including biking, fishing and hunting, neither retiree is expecting to fill his time with only leisure activities. Something’s next, they say, although that “something” is still taking form.
“John and Kirk have served this community with great devotion and loyalty for 35 to 40 years of service,” says Harmening. “They’re really going to be missed, and we’re all hoping that in some way we can draw on their experience going forward.” As for the chief and his deputy, they are not at all worried about who will step up to lead their department. An executive search committee hoped to have a decision made by late 2016 on their replacements.
Harmening says Luse and DiLorenzo have done an excellent job of providing opportunities for their officers to grow, and eventually to lead. “Sometimes,” says DiLorenzo, “the best way to lead is to get out of the way.”
(John Luse, Police Chief)