Brian Weierke has seen a lot during his 26-year career in law enforcement. As Fridley's director of public safety and police chief, Weierke and the Fridley Police Department embarked on a new partnership in 2021 that they hope furthers their bond with the Fridley community.
In October, Fridley police and first responders held a community celebration as a way to thank the city's 20-person Community Citizens Advisory Group.
"I meet with our Citizen Advisory Group monthly," Weierke said. "We talk about police and community relationships along with issues in police work."
The "thank you" celebration was led by The Inner Hero Organization, a Twin Cities non-profit focused on improving police and community relationships.
"We are the only non-profit that works directly with law enforcement and the community the bridge that gap peacefully and not taking sides," said Ambrose R. Russell, the Inner Hero Organization's founder. "We're in the center to speak the truth and make sure we can bring the community together. We believe the police is the community and the community is the police."
Weierke says the partnership with The Inner Hero came after a Fridley school resource officer connected with a middle school principal who new Russell from previous interactions. From there, the connection was made.
"I believe in the work you do will speak for you and you don't have to sell it too much," Russell said. "Just do the work."
Russell has over a decade of experience leading the organization and partnering with police departments across the metro and community outreach. Much of that outreach includes working with youth.
"We just want to be a part of it because it's the teamwork that will bring the solution we are looking for," added Russell. "That holistic approach. The police need a relationship with the community and the community needs a relationship with the police."
The October event was the first joint effort between Fridley Police and The Inner Hero Organization. After securing funds from the Local Lions Club, members of the advisory committee were invited to a join Fridley public safety for a community celebration meal.
"Ambrose asked for the roster of the group and he had plaques made to give to the group's members," Weierke said. "We got a chance in front of probably 100 or so people to recognize and thank them for volunteering their time. Between the meal and the plaque, there were a lot of really happy community advisory group members."
The event is just one example of the type of events Russell and his group holds throughout the year. On December 21, they held a toy drive benefiting Toys for Tots at the Brooklyn United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Center.
In July, the organization held a basketball tournament featuring teams made up of police and youth from the metro. Russell says the events are a way to normalize and humanize the interactions between police officers and the communities they serve.
"We are working with more than 15 metro police departments to build those relationships," Russell said. "Because of that, the trust and legitimacy have been established. Once people see us coming together as one, there will be a trust and hopefully we find people coming together."
Weierke believes the partnership and continuing to build relationships in the community could lead to bigger things in the future.
"What I would like to see is a Fridley student advisory group with 20 or 30 high school students to talk about law enforcement issues," he said. "I think it's going to be best to have a group like The Inner Hero to step in and help make those connections, instead of having it always come from the police."
Russell and Weireke both agree that student advisory group, combined with the community advisory group, would look to expand and improve the diversity seen in law enforcement.
"It's very difficult to diversify police departments," Weireke said. "Our applicants a lot of times aren't diverse and we don't lose that many people every year. Change doesn't happen overnight, but by having this advisory group we are giving different groups in the community a voice on what's going on."
Russell, who was born in Liberia and sought refuge in Ghana after his grandparents passed away. He arrived in the United States in 2004 and later established The Inner Hero as a mentoring program.
"It's about telling people you appreciate them where they are and that you want do better and will do better," Russell said. "It all starts with showing gratitude. The next police chief could be your kid, son, daughter, niece, or nephew. What you do now could spark the transformation that inspires someone to continue that years from now."