Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Luke Axley arrived in the Midwest in 2015 when he took a job as a TSA agent at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. There, he met his wife, who was living in River Falls. Axley soon made the move across the St. Croix and settled into the community.
However, in 2016, Axley accepted a job with the Secret Service, and he and his family relocated to Washington, D.C.
“It was a great experience, and I learned a lot,” Axley said. “But ultimately, my wife and I both missed the small town feeling of River Falls.”
When River Falls Police Department posted an opening for officers in spring 2021, Axley seized the opportunity. He joined the department in June and became neighborhood resource officer the following November.
“It was pretty quick into my time here,” Axley said. “I was surprised to get this position, being so new, but I think we all felt that it seemed like it would be a good fit.”
As neighborhood resource officer, Axley has several responsibilities. He’s the lead contact for coordinating community events that require a police presence or street closures, ranging from 5K runs to River Falls Days. He serves as the City’s liquor license liaison and handles the administrative duties related to parking enforcement.
Additionally, Axley provides outreach to individuals experiencing housing insecurity.
“Sometimes, if I’m on patrol, I might notice someone in a public place who appears to be unhoused,” Axley explained. Other times, a concerned community member may call into the department and request that an officer go out to assist someone they believe requires help.
“This is a voluntary interaction,” Axley said. “If they would rather not speak with me, I will respect that completely. But I do always carry envelopes with information on housing and social service resources, and if the person is looking for help, I’ll hand that out. I also give my business card say, ‘Hey, if you need somebody to talk to at the PD here, give me a call anytime.’”
To effectively connect community members with resources, Axley has built strong relationships with local organizations like Our Neighbors’ Place, Turningpoint, Grace Place, and St. Croix and Pierce counties.
“We all want to live happily and prosper in a nice city like this,” Axley said. “It takes multiple agencies and organizations to get there. We’re really lucky that, for being a small town, we have so many amazing groups right here with the staff expertise and resources to provide direct services. I help connect people with them, and they take it from there.”
According to Axley, relationship-building and trust are essential to his work. “Some might have a negative impression of law enforcement, so I’m tasked with overcoming that,” he said. “It’s not always easy, but I think what it comes down to is that people know when empathy is genuine and they respond well to that.”
Now a year and a half into the position, Axley reports that many community members know him by name and even ask for him personally when they call the department’s non-emergency line.
“A lot of people are apprehensive about contacting the police,” Axley said. “People may not realize this, but I’m available to talk anytime – about community policing, about issues facing our community. And I enjoy the conversations. It's not a burden for me to have a 30-minute call about a concern that a community member has. I want to continue bridging that gap and helping people feel comfortable reaching out to us.”