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Sheriff's deputies reach out to rural areas

One of the nice things about living in a rural community is the lack of crime. Right?

Well, yes and no. There might not be the big, dramatic crime that makes headlines, but there still is a fair amount of incidents that happen in Dakota County's townships and smaller cities. That's why the Dakota County Sheriff's Department is starting a new outreach program called Block Club meetings.

"This is a way for us to help the citizens and for them to help us," said Sgt. Jim Gabriel, who is organizing the Block Club meetings. "It's a chance for them to talk about any problems in their neighborhoods."

The project is designed as a community outreach program that will be held once a month, on average, at locations around the rural parts of Dakota County - be it in townships or smaller cities. The host locations will be the rural areas that do not have their own police departments and depend on the sheriff's department for public safety.

However, since the topics covered at these meetings will be relevant to all rural residents, Gabriel invites residents from all parts of the county to attend the sessions, no matter where they are held.

The sessions will cover specific topics, but participants will also have time to share concerns or ask questions of the deputies in attendance.

"We get to meet more of the public," Gabriel said. "Once they get to know us, they're more likely to reach out to us about things happening in their neighborhoods, which will help us deter crime. It's kind of a win-win situation. I hope the public has interest in it and that the program kind of takes off."

The first Block Club meeting will be held Nov. 11 in Empire Township. Topics for the evening include snowmobile safety and crime prevention.

According to Gabriel, burglaries are perhaps the biggest crime in rural Dakota County. Rural residents have a false sense of security. They figure that because their homes are in the country it's okay to leave their doors unlocked. That mentality is what burglars have preyed on, because those homes are often unattended and there are no neighbors close by to report intruders.

"That's probably our major crime that's going on that really affects the residents," Gabriel said. "They're a lot more vulnerable because there are not a lot of neighbors around. They need to watch their property and their neighbor's property and really be aware of what's going on. If they can get a license plate number off of a car, that's really huge for us."

Because the November meeting will be the first of its kind, Gabriel hasn't really heard any feedback from residents. However, the officials from the townships and smaller cities that he's spoken with are all very supportive of the program.

Perhaps the hardest part of the program will be notifying residents of when sessions are planned. Gabriel plans to post the programs on the Dakota County Sheriff's Department web site. Information about the Nov. 11 session is available on Empire Township's web site,

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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