HUDSON — Shane C. Bower, a former police officer, was appointed the new city police commissioner by Mayor Kamal Johnson on Tuesday, succeeding Peter Volkmann, who resigned Sept. 19.
“I’ve known him the majority of my life and he was an officer in the city of Hudson during most of that time,” Johnson said. “And he was a trusted officer who always engaged the public and always ventured into areas and interacted with the people that most are not always likely to do.”
Johnson and Bower share memories of attending local barbecues when Johnson was young.
“He would come and eat, and sit down, and talk,” Johnson said. “You know, he had a good rapport with the community.”
Bower, 48, worked for the Ulster and Chatham police departments from 1990 to 2001 when he joined the Hudson Police Department. He retired as a patrol sergeant in November 2019.
During his time with the Hudson Police Department, Bower served as a school resource officer and juvenile aid officer, working as a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) instructor and GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training) instructor.
Bower said he is happy to be part of the department again and help improve its relationship with the city.
“We have a good working relationship, but it’s always a work in progress,” Bower said.
Johnson said Bower was his top choice to fill the vacant post.
“For me, I really needed someone who I can trust,” Johnson said. “I think his appointment is a morale booster for the community and for the department, seeing as he was a fan favorite among the community.”
“He’s not the most progressive guy,” Johnson joked, “but I feel he has a willingness to listen and understand, an openness to work within a lot of my goals and his own.”
Johnson said his experience as a community member and Bower’s experience as a former officer make them a good team.
“Me looking at things from a reform perspective, and him having the experience of being on patrol during all the different facets of police work, they’re different worlds,” Johnson said.
Bower, a former U.S. Marine, has a five-goal plan for the Hudson Police Department: Find ways to improve morale within the police department; work with the city to cut costs to save jobs and assure job security; departmental training including defensive tactics, de-escalation techniques and revamping cultural diversity training; work on expanding community relations to continue to grow the relationship between the community and the members of the department; and educate the community on what the police do and the reasons they do them, and the laws that require them to do the things they are mandated to do.
Bower said he hopes education will make de-escalation a two-way street between officers and community members.
He said he understands many people are instantly on guard when a police officer approaches them and by creating an environment where the officer can have a conversation with community members about why they are present will help de-escalate tense situations.
“My biggest thing is, and I think it’s always been one of my tools — Kamal could tell you — is how you speak to someone,” Bower said. “And I think if the community is a little more educated as to why we ask certain questions and why we do certain things, I think (for) a lot of these things, they would understand it. Our job is not easy to understand,” he said.
Learning goes both ways — officers need to learn about community members to improve interactions as well, Bower said.
“You [police officers] have to understand who you’re talking to,” Bower said. “You have to understand their culture. You have to understand their family. You have to understand how they were brought up. There are just numerous things that come into play. It’s not just I contact you and we have an interaction and that’s the end of it.”
Although crime in Hudson has declined over the years, the police department should not cut officers, Bower said.
“We have progressively changed how this city is run, the way the crime is, the way things happen here — it’s a very safe city now,” Bower said. “But the problem is, things are always running in cycles. Because we’re at a good point, this is not the opportunity to strip the department of people because of the numbers.”
Instead of cutting positions, officers can work more with community relations and youth, Bower said.
He also said he understands the city is financially strained because of COVID-19, and the police, like other departments, can make financial cuts.
“I’m also a firm believer that there’s always spots within departments, within the agencies, that things can be scaled down,” he said. “And I think that at this point, especially with COVID. I think that the department needs to give just as much as any of the other agencies to make the financial burden lighter on the city.”
Addressing the recently proposed Hudson Breathe Act, a police reform plan proposed by Citizens of Hudson at the city’s legal committee meeting last week, Bower said he is reviewing it.
“I’m 100% for better training for officers to work better with the community,” Bower said. “To me, some of the issues — the no chokehold, the no kneeling — those things are not something that are done anyway in my entire career that I was here. That’s just not something that is done.”
He said Hudson hasn’t faced some of the problems the proposal would address.
“The problems that they are bringing here are not here,” Bower said. “That’s my issue with some of it [the Breathe Act]. We are not Minnesota. We are not these agencies that have these problems. You look at the track record of the police department, these things don’t happen. Are there personal complaints? Absolutely. Not everybody’s going to approve of or get along with what an officer does. But we don’t have the type of, I guess, overall systematic issues that a lot of other departments have. We’re a small agency that most everybody polices each other.”
Johnson said he wants to prevent national policing issues from occurring in Hudson, and Bower agreed Hudson should be proactive.
“I think we have a problem throughout the nation and that the system is broken,” Johnson said. “Typically, it doesn’t always work for people of color and people of lower socioeconomic means. I think for us, we need to all be at the table and getting a better understanding. We both come with those different experiences and being at the table together instead of dividing the lines makes things a lot more smoother,” Johnson said.
Bower said he understands he has a different life experience than Johnson.
“I like the challenge of learning. I want to learn,” Bower said. “I’ve bounced things off of him [Johnson] before because I sure don’t want to say the wrong thing and come across the wrong way when that’s not at all what I mean. I think it’s a matter of learning and I think that’s huge.”