By Ali Lucia

MINNETONKA, Minn. (WCCO) — Scott Marks is known around the Minnetonka Police Department for his outgoing personality. It’s why Police Chief Scott Boerboom thought he would be the perfect fit for a new role within his staff — community engagement officer.

“I love it,” Marks said. “I am an outgoing person, so to be able to meet people in the community and show them that we are here for them, I think that’s been are real positive thing.”

Marks says he is trying to give local citizens the opportunity to engage with an officer away from an emergency situation.

“That’s kind of what my role is built around,” Marks said. “We’re trying to get people access to us, just see that we are normal people just like everyone else…and if our citizens want to meet us and talk to us, they definitely can do that.”

According to the National Emergency Number Association, an estimated 240 million calls are made to 911 in the U.S. every year.

According to Minnetonka police, the department has had 317 mental health calls this year, that’s compared to 110 in 2005. If this year’s trend continues, that would be a nearly 280 percent increase.

Boerboom, the police chief, recognized this trend and knew he had to make community engagement a priority.

“I think it was just seeing what was happening all of over the state and the country and seeing a need to have a proactive focus on reaching out to all members of our community,” Boerboom said. “Our police officers are out there answering calls for service, they have some opportunity to meet and engage people.”

Marks has been assigned to events like Coffee with a Cop, attending the local farmers market, connecting with social service agencies in town, and also meeting with clergy and faith leaders.

The 14-year department veteran is also working on his masters in social work.

“Social work is really about networking and knowing different resources, and that’s what has helped with developing some of the programs and working with people in the community that are suffering from mental illness as well,” Marks said.

His mission to protect and give back to his community has not waivered.

He hopes to use the degree not only in the town where he patrols, but also to be someone other officers can talk to when they are having trouble dealing with some of the day-to-day pressures of the job.

“We’re trying to get ahead of those issues early on, get ahead of those instead of relying on law enforcement as their first response,” Marks said.

Marks also works as a school resource officer for Lions Gate Academy. Since taking the job earlier this year, he says he’s had about 100 community engagement outreach activities to date.