Jan 31, 2013 at 4:13 pm
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KNSI) - It's been 5 busy months on the job for the chief of the St. Cloud Police department, and Chief Wm. Blair Anderson has enjoyed every minute of it.
A veteran with over 20 years of experience serving in law enforcement throughout Minnesota, Anderson came to St. Cloud from Carver County. He says he hadn't spent much time in St. Cloud prior to being sworn in as chief last August at St. Cloud City Hall.
The challenges for Chief Anderson began almost as quickly as he pinned on that SCPD badge; little more than a month in, 20 year-old Colton Gleason died after suffering a fatal punch and fall in a St. Cloud alleyway.
A shock to the residents of St. Cloud, but as a Detroit native, Anderson grew up around violent crime every day. He says, while St. Cloud is no Detroit, citizens here and everywhere need to take their own safety and decisions very seriously.
Anderson says he's proud of the work the SCPD did in the wake of Gleason's death. He calls St. Cloud a city of "high standards," and sees it as model city when it comes to neighborhood safety coalitions and organizations.
Anderson had much, much more to say to KNSI about his life, career, experience as a crime victim and his optimistic perception of St. Cloud. Anderson spent a morning chatting with KNSI's Abby Faulkner from his office on the edge of downtown St. Cloud.
Check out some highlights.
KNSI Speaks with Wm. Blair Anderson
KNSI: You hear from people on a regular basis, worrying about increasing random crime. What advice do you give to people who ask, "why aren't you protecting us?"
CHIEF BLAIR ANDERSON: What i would say to that is, we spend every waking moment in aid of our citizens. Their protection is paramount. For me, and maybe it's because I grew up in a very urban, violent city- when you grow up in a place like that, you develop all kinds of skills and protocols to keep yourself safe. In other words, you know when and where you should not go. You know not to travel alone. You don't frequent establishments you know are dangerous. And I guess I would ask the public to be a little more aware of your surroundings. And that's something that's applicable every day. It's not something you adopt for a special occasion. We should always be aware of where we are, what's around us and what we're doing. These things go a long way in keeping (us) safe. Unfortunately, of course, we can't predict when and where (crime) will happen. Low enforcement has gotten better at being proactive, but many times, circumstances demand we be reactive. And so I guess my mindset is simple - heightened awareness goes a long way.
KNSI: You said one of the biggest appeals to you was to come to a city that's growing and becoming more diverse, very quickly. How do you think the city of St. Cloud is handling those "growing pains?"
ANDERSON: I think this city should be used as a model, for all cities. I've lived in a lot of places all over the country. I have never see a. City that walks the walk like St. Cloud does. I mean, there's no shortage of neighborhood coalitions, community groups and support systems to help those who come from other places better assimilate. I have heard dozens of positive stories, and to me, that's a testament to some really forward thinking. It starts at the mayor's office, and it permeates throughout this whole city. People have a lot of pride.
KNSI: Do you see these changes as strong enough to change the reputation St. Cloud has in more urban areas for being homogenous or bigoted?
ANDERSON: Absolutely. I think people really, really want to shake that stigma. They don't want to be associated with that anymore. And the cold reality is this - part of that reputation was earned. But as someone who's lived in Minnesota for 30 years, I can tell you, it is nothing like it used to be. There are people who still refer to St. Cloud as "white cloud."
KNSI: Yes, I definitely heard that from people before I moved here from Minneapolis.
ANDERSON: Yep. And I always correct them. I'm glad to be an ambassador for St. Cloud to people like that. Because you know when you hear that, it's from someone who hasn't been here for a long time, or even at all. And I tell them emphatically - "no, you're wrong." And they'll give you this kind of sideways look, and I'll say, well maybe you should come up and visit." You know what I mean? Before you cast aspersions, come and see for yourself.
I'm glad to be part of that growth. This city, the people that live here, I think have figured something out. And that is, you can't stop the change. I other words, the demographics here, it's started to change. And not just here, but all over the country. And rather than resist, or buck the tide, I think people here are saying, "we want to live here, we want to stay here, and we welcome everyone who comes here, but we have a set of standards and we want to make sure we maintain them." There's nothing wrong with that. I've seen a strong outpouring of support - and not just in my own life - but for the immigrant populations as well. And I truly believe it's because the people here want to maintain that good quality of life. The way you do that? By making sure equity is part of the program. It doesn't mean a handout, it doesn't mean standards are lowered. It just means that everyone is given a fair chance here. And that helps us all.
KNSI:This has been a big year, an election year, for talking about diversity - racial, ethnic, sexual orientation. How have you seen discussions on these topics handled since you've been here?
ANDERSON: Oh, progressively. Many forward thinking people. And I've lived in places where the opposite was true. Here's the irony - Minnesotans like to use the expression "Minnesota nice." (Laughs) Well, there are places in Minnesota, like anywhere else, where that doesn't exist if you're different. And you know something, I lived in the south for 4 years, but it wasn't until I moved to Minnesota that I had my house burned down by a group of neo nazis. And so whenever I hear that expression being tossed about, I remind people that we're still a polarized nation, and race is somewhere at the top of that list, and Minnesota is no different. That's why it's refreshing to come to St. Cloud - there's an outpouring of support for people. Doesn't matter what you look like or what you believe. As long as you're doing you best to be a level contributor and a law abiding citizen, you'll be accepted.
KNSI: You had your house burned down in the 80s in Minnesota?
ANDERSON: In the 90s actually - mid 90s. In south St. Paul. Right in the metro.
KNSI: And you were a police officer at that point?
ANDERSON: Nope. I was a news reporter. I was married at the time. And (pause) they didn't like the fact that I was...married to a white woman...and had two little mixed babies. So. They tried to burn my house down. Well not try, they did. And that was the culmination of a whole bunch of different events. It didn't start there. It started with the name calling, the epithets. You know, they try and intimidate people but hey, I'm from Detroit Michigan. A little band of punks like that - you know, it's easy to be tough when you got 10 of your buddies with you, but separate them out and they're punks, they're cowards.
And. They burned our house down. But you know what the beautiful thing is? At the time, there were still a lot of WWII veterans in the neighborhood. And they were none too happy seeing people walking up and down their streets with swastikas, and jack boots and praising Adolph hitler. I mean, imagine what that stirred up in them, you know, having fought in World War Two, and then coming home and 40 years later, you have a parade of punks up and down the street who have no idea what they're talking about, and probably never picked up a history book. And they're leader was an older guy, which is even deer, because he was clearly preying on vulnerable juveniles who were wayward, probably and just wanted to be part of something.
KNSI: So did this contribute to getting you into law enforcement?
ANDERSON: No, not necessarily. I've always been that corny guy that just wanted to protect and serve. And, my dream was to be a news reporter. Back then, there were no blogs. There was no CNN, no Fox, no MSNBC. It was one of the networks or nothing. So obviously the opportunities were limited. So I worked for McGraw hill publishing for 5 years and decided, "well, this does not arouse any passion in me. So let's try something different. Why put off an opportunity to help people all day, every day. Because that's the way I look at this. So, I did an about face and changed my career path. And I'm glad I did.