WSP police have all the answers — online

The police department can be an intimidating place to visit, even for a law-abiding resident with a legitimate errand.

That’s why the West St. Paul Police Department has worked out a way for you to familiarize yourself and ask your questions before you even leave your home. The department plans to offer a new Q-and-A service online this month that will provide how-to’s and instructional videos to help you figure out what you need from the department and how to get it. Need a copy of the report from your car accident to send to your insurance? Does your new job require you to get fingerprinted? Having trouble reading the online crime map for your neighborhood?

These are just a few of the questions that are answered by staff in a series of short videos and/or articles. When finished, residents should be able to go the city’s web page, click a tab and type in a question. If the issue is covered, a tutorial will pop up. If the subject isn’t covered, the query might just change that, according to Lt. Brian Sturgeon.

Sturgeon explained that analytical components of the software enable department staff to see what topics get the most traffic, as well as issues people are looking for help with that don’t yet have an entry.

“So if you post a video and nobody uses it, why keep it on there?” Sturgeon said. “But if someone is punching into the search engine ‘How do I do X?’ and we don’t have that, we know a lot of people are asking about this so let’s put something out there.”

Hometown solution

West St. Paul police say adding informational software will put their department at the forefront of a growing trend among law enforcement offices. But the jump to the cutting edge didn’t come from a presentation at a national convention or a tip in a trade publication.

It came from West St. Paul native Sean Higgins.

Higgins was first introduced to city government by his neighbor, City Council member Ed Iago. Higgins volunteered in Iago’s election campaigns as a boy and went on to work as an intern in the city’s finance department in 2011 while he was a student at the University of St. Thomas.

Higgins said he was drawn back to West St. Paul this year because of something Iago had said at the close of his internship.

“He asked me when I left, ‘Is there any recommendations you can give?” Higgins recalled.

Now working as a team lead for ICOS, LLC, Higgins said it occurred to him that his company’s software, which was originally designed as an internal training program, would have been helpful for him when he was first navigating the complexity of city government.

“I thought ‘Wow, having an application like this would really go a long way for an intern or anyone,” Higgins said.

Higgins brought his idea to Iago, who in turn set up a meeting with Mayor John Zanmiller. After gaining Zanmiller’s endorsement, the proposal was passed to Police Chief Bud Shaver to find an application within his department.

Higgins, along with his colleague Nick Stokman, was assigned to work with administrative staff in the police department to create a reference guide for residents.

Iago said he was able to see the potential for such a program early on in talks with Higgins.

“It was a real good tool for the general public,” Iago said. “It was something that would make questions and answers much easier -- for the general public to go online, pull up a question and have a recorded answer come back rather than having someone refer them to a section of ordinance.”

According to Higgins, the content for the police department’s application is now complete and ready to go live within the next two weeks. From there, Higgins and Iago agree the program could have similar applications in various other city departments.

“Parks, permitting -- they have pretty good uses for something like this,” Higgins said.

Luke Reiter can be reached at or at 651-748-7815.

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