Most Minneapolis cops live in the suburbs; these guys picked Downtown

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April 25, 2005 // UPDATED 1:54 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Jeremy Stratton
Jeremy Stratton

Minneapolis Police Department Sergeants Ron Reier and Rick Zimmerman have some things in common. Both men ride Harleys. Both do street duty in addition to their high-profile jobs - although Reier notes they are "extremely different jobs."

As the department's public information officer, Reier spends 95 percent of his time in uniform. Homicide detective Zimmerman is a suit-and-tie man who looks like he might have walked off the set of "Law and Order."

But there is one other key similarity: unlike most of their colleagues, who live in the suburbs, Reier and Zimmerman live in the city - specifically, Downtown.

Both say they live here because they love it, and that living where they work is added incentive to keep Downtown safe.

The man

In introductions, Zimmerman pronounces his last name Zimmer-man, like some sort of approachable superhero. In fact, there is a semi-legendary story about him fighting crime above and beyond the call in his LoringPark neighborhood.

Once, at the SuperAmerica near his apartment, a man tried to sell the off-duty detective some CDs he'd just stolen from a car. After calling for a squad, Zimmerman coolly perused the selection until the cops arrived.

"I want to live in a safe neighborhood, so I'm not going to sit back and do nothing," Zimmerman said.

It's not the only time he's haggled over stolen goods waiting for backup. In another incident, car thieves agreed to show the arriving officers all the other cars they'd burgled, in exchange for misdemeanor charges.

"He's a high-level member of the department, he doesn't have to deal with that kind of thing," said City Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward,) one of several Loring Park residents who recounted the CD story.

"Both [Zimmerman and Reier] are incredibly modest people," Goodman said. "They don't give themselves anywhere near the amount of credit for the good work they do. They put a real face on who Minneapolis police are."

Zimmerman's arrest record is anything but modest. He said he and partner Tammy Deitrich have the departments' highest "clearance" rate (based primarily on suspects charged) at 80 percent. (The national average is 60 percent.) Zimmerman said charged suspects have gone free in only two cases in 10 years.

"You keep rolling until you catch the guy," he said.

Although he was not assigned the recent Loring Park murder at 210 W. Grant St., Zimmerman said he was available to Loring Park residents who know him and had questions. He compared Loring Park to a small town, where "everybody knows everybody, or they should."

Zimmerman - who will only say he's from "outstate" - moved Downtown in 1986, a year after joining the force. Almost 20 years later, the never-married-man says he still likes Downtown's energy.

"I love walking Nicollet Mall at the end of the day," Zimmerman said, for the 25-cent caramel rolls at Key's Caf, 1007 Nicollet Mall, music outside Orchestra Hall or food at Brit's Pub, 1110 Nicollet Mall.

He also enjoys Hennepin Avenue's energy in the summer - as a beat cop. Zimmerman, Reier, and other nonpatrol cops rotate on uniformed patrol on "the Chief's beat" weekend nights between May and September.

Captain Rich Stanek, commander of the MPD's Criminal Investigations Division, noted that Zimmerman sits on the Police-Community Relations Council, which arose out of federal mediation between the MPD and communities of color.

"I know why he's there," said Stanek, Zimmerman's superior. "He's a resident of the city. He gets along with people; people know him.

"If you want to take the pulse of what's happening with the MPD, ask Sgt. Zimmerman," Stanek said.

Zimmerman said he might apply for a lieutenant's position, but that would mean trading a finger on the pulse for a desk job, and he'd miss the excitement of the job: kicking in a door, "putting the cuffs on a guy" and interviewing suspects.

Though still young at 46, Zimmerman can retire "in three years and 200 days, not that I'm counting," he said.

The spokesman

Last August, six months after his kidney failed, MPD Officer Jeff Seidl needed a transplant, his second in nine years. He sent out an e-mail to friends, family and co-workers.

Ron Reier said he "hit the reply button" and said, "If you want an old kidney, you can have it."

On January 7, Seidl took the 58-year-old Reier up on it.

"It means I can go back to normal life," Seidl said of the "life-saving operation.

"[Reier] is a hero to me."

Reier is the MPD's voice. "He's the middle man between me and the media," Stanek said. "He can either shut down a story or foster it," depending on how much police want the media to know, Stanek said. Sometimes, the press doesn't get much.

"Does he piss people off? Sure," Stanek said. "But so do the reporters."

(Zimmerman said he's had to expand crime scenes as much as two blocks to keep reporters out.)

Reier is the Department's face, as well, as the host of "MPD Cops" on Minneapolis Cable Access Channel 14, where he covers crime-prevention topics, and at public high schools, where Reier "[teaches] kids to keep their butts out of trouble," he said.

Technically, Reier works for the city's Communications Department. Reier's predecessor resigned in 2003 after Mayor R.T. Rybak moved the position from the MPD, which sparked controversy. Former Police Chief Robert Olsen asked Reier to cover the position for a few weeks; 27 months later, he's still interim public information officer.

"I hope it's because I'm doing a good job," Reier said. "I realize I'm one sentence away from losing this job at any time."

Stanek said that Zimmerman and Reier have a lot of the same characteristics. "Ron's an easy-going guy," said Stanek. "He's street-savvy; he's smart. He's a good communicator because he forms those relationships."

Reier's relationship with Downtown is both shorter and longer than Zimmerman's. The divorced father of three grown kids has only lived in Laurel Village for three years, but recalls taking the bus as a 10-year-old from Coon Rapids to see movies at the State and Skyway theaters and the Shrine Circus at the old Minneapolis Auditorium. Washington Avenue was "skid row," Reier said. "All missions, all drunks.

"That's what makes it so cool now, to look back to when I tramped these streets 45 years ago," he said.

Although Reier enjoys biking Minneapolis trails, circling the lakes on foot (he's run two marathons) or taking off early on a "slow news day" to ride his Harley, his favorite place is right at home.

Reier still sounds like a kid in a candy store as he looks out over Minneapolis from his 20th-floor apartment. He can watch the bustling city up close or look out over the distant horizon. Spring green and fall colors are amazing, he said, and, at night, he admires "the beauty of this city, the lights. Sometimes I just shut off the TV and sit here and look."

Reier said as soon as Lunds builds a full-size grocery nearby, he'll have everything he needs Downtown.

"I'm not down here because I'm a cop," Reier said. "I love living Downtown."

However, like Zimmerman, he feels an obligation to the area.

"You tend to protect your home turf," Reier said.