Jan. 5 St. Joseph people

Janelle Von PinnonPeople, Print Editions, Print St. Joseph, Social0 Comments

Builders association donates to 17 area high school technology programs

Central Minnesota Builders Association has seen an amplified level of interest by technology instructors to participate in Tools for Schools, an educational project developed in 2004 by the CMBA to increase the skills of students and promote the benefits of working in the building industry as a career.

This year 17 area schools including Sartell, Sauk Rapids, Cathedral, St. Cloud’s Apollo and Tech, Albany, ALC McKinley, Becker, Eden Valley-Watkins, Foley, Kimball, Little Falls, Melrose, Princeton, Rocori, Swanville, and Upsala submitted requests indicting their schools were underfunded and could use some more tools for the interested students. The schools were presented $18,000 at a recent CMBA meeting, giving the passionate and grateful instructor’s a platform to share their trials and successes in each program with CMBA members. They told stories of students learning building trade skills and showed appreciation for the chance to teach with more and safer tools. In addition to the presentation of donation checks, a Tool Drive was held to fill a shortage of simple tools. Donations of tools and money will be matched in 2017 up to $20,000 thanks to a newly formed CMBA Tools for Schools Presidents Foundation.

CMBA members support this program in a big way and invite the public to do the same. The Tools for Schools program supports teaching basic skills in the technology fields, from construction to car care and electronics to robotics. It provides resources to instructors who strive to ensure enough safe tools for growing class sizes, trips to Minnesota manufacturing businesses and funds to send the most skilled students to SkillsUSA competitions.

The ultimate goal for CMBA is to help address the building industry’s labor shortages, by having contributed more than $92,000 to area high schools during the past 14 years.

If you would like to support your local schools by make a tax deductible donation go to cmbaonline.org/careers-education/tools-schools/

CMBA is a non-profit professional association, with over 75,000 employees in the member companies representing all phases of the building industry. The CMBA strives to improve the Central Minnesota community and grow its membership base by promoting the association to the public, educating the community about building industry best practices, and advocating for the building industry at the local, state and national level.

 Stearns County awarded state grant to form sex-trafficking task force

The Stearns County Attorney’s Office in partnership with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office, the St. Cloud and Waite Park police departments and the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center was recently awarded a $313,000 grant from the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs to form the Central Minnesota Sex Trafficking Investigative Task Force.

The task force will coordinate with state and federal agencies to investigate and prosecute sex traffickers and provide services and support for adults and children being exploited in Stearns County and across central Minnesota. On Dec. 19, the Stearns County Board of Commissioners approved re-allocation of allotted dollars to support a crime analyst to complete the team assigned full-time to combat this public safety problem.

Waite Park Police Chief Dave Bentrud told the Stearns County Board when investigators started digging into the problem of trafficking, they found it extended beyond the metro area into smaller communities. “It ties to gangs, violent offenders and drugs,” he said. “We felt trying to figure out a way to allocate more investigative resources to the problem made sense.”

Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall added trafficker prosecutions have been successful in part because of the County Attorney’s Office expertise in prosecuting domestic violence, echoing that trafficking prosecutions involve not only domestic and sexual violence, but often drug use and sales and other related property crimes to ensure profitability for the career criminals involved.

Partner agencies include not only Waite Park and St. Cloud Police as well as the Stearns County Sheriff and County Attorney, but also the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center, the Safe Harbor Regional Navigator, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, Terebinth Refuge, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, Stearns County Human Services homeless outreach, child protection and gateway support divisions, the Salvation Army, Anna Marie’s Alliance, the Children’s Response Initiative, CentraCare’s Child Advocacy Center, and representatives from the Stearns County Board of Commissioners and numerous Congressional and state legislative offices. State Rep. Tama Theis, State Sen. Jerry Relph, and State Rep. Tim Miller all played important roles in acquiring this state funding. Rep. Tom Emmer and Sens. Klobuchar and Franken have been kept advised of the developing needs as well. The task force would not be possible without the financial support of the partner agencies who jointly recognize sex trafficking is a clear and present danger that significantly affects the public safety of Central Minnesota.

Since 2010, investigations across Stearns County have demonstrated the trafficking of women and children in Central Minnesota is a significant public-safety issue. The St. Cloud area, sitting at the intersection of I-94 and Highway 23, is a natural crossroads for both sex traffickers and sex buyers, creating the highest demand outside the Twin Cities metro area. Individual and later coordinated efforts by law enforcement in Waite Park and St. Cloud involved numerous buyer stings and prosecution of several traffickers, demonstrating the significant supply and demand for purchased sex that could not be adequately addressed with a part-time or ad hoc approach. In 2016, the partner agencies collaborated to better coordinate both investigations and victim services and to address the need for full-time dedicated resources to attack the problem. From this collaboration, the need for resources was clearly identified, leading to the grant application and county board request.

The Task Force will utilize two full time investigators, one each in the Waite Park and St. Cloud police departments, plus a portion of a full-time detective in the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office to concentrate exclusively on reducing both the supply and demand for purchased sex. Investigators will coordinate with other state and federal agencies to share information and to conduct joint investigations. Such cooperation is necessary as traffickers remain mobile to avoid detection and seek greater profit. Investigators will be aided by the crime analyst in the Stearns County Attorney’s Office to provide technical assistance to law enforcement including forensic analysis and collection of electronic evidence including social media.

Questions may be directed to: Janelle Kendall, Stearns County Attorney at 320-656-3880; Dave Bentrud, Waite Park Chief of Police at 320-251-3281; Don Gudmundson, Stearns County Sheriff, at 320-259-3700; and Blair Anderson, St. Cloud Chief of Police, at 320-345-3201.

Author: Janelle Von Pinnon

Von Pinnon has been publishing the St. Joseph Newsleader since 1989, the Sartell-St. Stephen Newsleader since 1995 and the Sauk Rapids-Rice Newsleader since 2015. She graduated from Minnesota State University-Moorhead with degrees in mass communications (with an emphasis on print journalism) and biology. She lives in southeast St. Cloud with her husband and two children.

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