On a perfect summer evening, families and law enforcement met over hot dogs, chips and freezies to talk about community, safety and life in Anoka.
The contrast to Anoka Police Chief Eric Peterson’s first day on the job as the department’s leader eight months ago was not lost on him.
On Nov. 28, 95-year-old Albert Loehlein was found beaten to death in his Anoka home.
For many Anoka residents, this traumatic homicide was their first introduction to the new chief, who along with the Anoka County Attorney’s Office and Anoka County Sheriff’s Office hosted information sessions for seniors who were feeling unsafe in their own homes.
After that difficult start, last week’s Cookout with Cops was a welcome and needed chance for Peterson and the Anoka PD staff to connect with the community in a different light.
About 200 people came to the inaugural event, held at Akin Riverside Park, according to Peterson.
Most of the department’s sworn and community service officers and administrative staff were on hand to visit and answer questions.
While the cookout was largely attended by Anoka residents, Peterson said he talked with people from neighboring Coon Rapids and Ramsey, along with visitors from Minneapolis.
“We heard from people who had concerns, people who wanted to connect with us and people who have embraced ‘community’ and wanted to be a part of it,” Peterson said.
He added that his officers and staff enjoyed the event as much as the community did.
“Many approached me and wanted to thank the city of Anoka for paying attention to their parks and neighborhoods,” Peterson said. “They told me that they have seen a positive change and are beginning to use the park more and more.”
Over the past couple of years, the city has allocated more funding, and more officers, to the patrol of public spaces.
Peterson said it’s their goal for the department to reduce the fear of crime by being visible to residents.