Eyes out in the cold

February 1, 2019
Rochester police officer Luke Erickson checks on a motorist parked with a flat tire Wednesday at River Center Plaza in Rochester. Officer Erickson assisted the driver in jacking up his van to fill the tire.

Bitterly cold temperatures forced schools and many public and private offices to close Wednesday, but because emergencies strike regardless of the weather, some people have no choice but to report to work.

Police patrolled streets as usual, but also kept an eye out for people who might need assistance due to the cold.

Officer Luke Erickson received a call about a possible panhandler along 11th Street Northwest Wednesday afternoon.

The person’s face appeared to be purple in the subzero weather, according to the call.

“I’m — I don’t know if impressed is the right word — but it’s amazing to me someone is panhandling in this weather,” Erickson said as he made his way to the call.

Before he could get there, he came across a vehicle stopped on an exit ramp off U.S. Highway 52.

The driver had run out of gas. Erickson pulled behind the black SUV and talked with the driver. Once Erickson found the driver had help on the way, plenty of blankets and was far off the highway, he continued toward the call regarding the panhandler.

Erickson didn’t spot a panhandler, but drove from 11th Avenue to the Dorothy Day Hospitality House, a Rochester homeless shelter, in case someone staying there had decided to walk to a busy intersection to panhandle.

Most of the homeless in the area stayed either at the Dorothy Day house or the Salvation Army Warming Center as the daytime high temperature reached minus-19 degrees Wednesday.

“Most of them already know the resources they have out there,” Erickson said.

Erickson, whose beat is downtown Rochester, has come to know some of the people who are homeless. In warmer weather, he also does foot patrols through the city center.

“You do a little rapport building,” he said. Most calls he gets regarding homeless people are out of concern for their well-being, he added.

“But the majority of them, we haven’t seen the last week or so,” Erickson said.

Police kept a watch for anyone who appeared to need assistance outside. Erickson helped a man who sat in a van parked at the River Center Plaza. Erickson operated the man’s his jack to help him fix a flat tire on his van.

“Sometimes a part of this job is to sacrifice your comfort to help people who need it,” Erickson said.

Erickson layered for the job. However, some members of the force don’t have as much protection form the cold.

Erik Red Hill, a Rochester K-9 police officer, said he tries to keep his four-legged partner warm when temperatures drop as low as they were Wednesday.

“He really doesn’t want to be out in this very long,” Red Hill said.

For most of the day, things remained quiet.

“I’m not superstitious, but we try not to use the q-word,” Erickson said.

Most of the calls for service Wednesday were to check on people and animals in the cold and people with vehicle problems.

Towing companies were busy providing jump starts or tows for service Wednesday.

At noon, Virgil’s towing had 70 calls for service stacked and all workers on hand.

“People who are not in a safe location, we move to the top of the list,” said Laura Johnson, wife of Virgil’s co-owner Royal Johnson. Laura said she was helping take calls due to the high volume.

The high of minus-19 is the coldest high temperature recorded in Rochester. Temperatures are forecast to rebound slightly today with a high of minus-one with highs above freezing forecast for the weekend.

Update hourly