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Schnell settling in as new chief

Paul Schnell's first few days as Hastings Chief of Police were a whirlwind of meetings, introductions and immersion into the community.

He's been spending his time meeting with every employee in the department, meeting key leaders at City Hall such as the mayor and council members, and he's been getting out into the community to get to know people in the schools, the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, and more. For the first six to eight weeks he expects to spend much of his time learning about Hastings and the police department, and asking lots of questions.

Schnell's first day on the job was June 28, and as he's been pleased with how people have reacted to him so far.

"People have been remarkably welcoming," he said.

Even in the first few days, Schnell could point out a few things the department is doing well.

"What has been profoundly clear is that there are some incredibly skilled workers in this department," he said. "... It's impressive what these officers are doing."

Their dedication to the people they serve is what has really stood out, and he plans to continue Hastings' tradition of "personalized, human service," he said.

While he's noticed the good things, Schnell has also picked out a few things he'd like to start working on. One is looking at data.

"This is an issue in policing all across the United States," Schnell said.

A police department gathers an incredible amount of data, he explained. From that data, officers can assess the problems that exist and devise a strategy that allows them to respond more precisely. Ideally, these strategies would prevent certain crimes, or at least make sure officers are able to respond as quickly as possible.

Another area Schnell is beginning to look into is increasing communication - both in distributing information to the public and receiving it. He's exploring survey options to gather information, and will even consider various technologies - Facebook or Twitter, perhaps - to improve the flow of information around the department.

Schnell credited sergeant Wayne Hicks for the work he's done engaging the community. His ideas are simply extensions of what's already been started.

"We want to build upon the things that he's (Hicks) done," Schnell said.

Part of this effort comes out of Schnell's emphasis on community policing - encouraging people to call in and report suspicious or criminal activity. Officers get paid to enforce the law, he said, but it's everyone's responsibility to police their community.

Of course, nothing is set in stone just yet, and it will take time before Schnell's ideas get put into effect.

One of Schnell's top priorities is making himself available to the public as well as other city officials and leaders.

"I'm going to be one of those people who's accessible," he said.