Vignette: Mary Jane and Susan
A group of parents is discussing whether it would be good to have a police officer in the community who also lives in the community. One parent remembers that in her old neighborhood, a police officer would come to the local schools and talk to the kids several times over the course of the school year. She thinks it’s very helpful when a local officer gets to know the local kids and keeps an eye out for them, their safety, and well-being. The parents are wondering what steps to take to see if there is anything they can do, like encouraging local government to offer financial incentives to officers who will live in the neighborhood where they work.
Introduction to the Chapter
The concept of police officers being involved in the community they serve and joining forces with helpful resources in that same community is a good idea and has been utilized in many jurisdictions in this country. Having these officers live in the communities they serve has not been emphasized enough. Just like the guardians of villages three to four generations ago, the relationship between the people and the guardian and the guardian and the people they protected was an important interdependent relationship and must also be so today. “Guardians” and “protectors” make a lot more sense today than “enforcer” and “invader.” Think about it. Other communities in the world seem to be able to make this concept work for them. Perhaps we can do it also and, in the process, benefit from such an accomplishment.
There have been some programs developed to assist officers who would like to move into various
community neighborhoods. This author is not aware of requirements being made that require officers to obtain, and receive help for, housing within the actual neighborhood that they regularly serve. However, programs of this nature often encourage such commitments. An example of such a program exists in the state of Texas.
For at least 10 years, the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation has been helping officers acquire
housing through the Homes for Texas Heroes Home Loan Program. The grant can be for a down payment of up to 5% of the mortgage loan and this grant does not have to be repaid. In essence, it is a gift to the officer who meets certain purchase requirements. The homes purchased can be anywhere in the state of Texas and the officer must
live in the purchased dwelling. As David Long, president of the Texas State Affordable Housing
Corporation, said, “Police officers are an integral part of our Texas communities, and they should be able to achieve the American dream of owning a home. We are proud to be able to offer a program that gives Texas the
opportunity to give back and say thanks.” Other tax credits and grant opportunities may be available depending on the specific situation of an individual officer.
Technology Advancing Over Interpersonal Skills
Tremendous advances have been made in technology and in the data sent to officers in the field. Such methods of transmission include iPhones and tablets, computers, et cetera. We need to go back to the basics. Cops have always had gadgets. Even with all of this over the years, we are still short of the goals that we set about relating to those we serve and protect. It is not about gadgets. We need to go back to the interpersonal skills that are being lost as technology increases. Cops don’t pay attention to what is going on around them now. When they are in a public restaurant, when they are driving down the street in their squad cars, and now even more when they are on their iPhones and computers, their attention is with the gadgets and not on the people or on the threats. Are there crisis intervention skills and reminders apps also on these phones? Are we giving more gadgets to the police “belt” rather than the basic and pervasive interpersonal skills that they really need?
We have the technology, but do we have the techniques? Too much “iPhone praying” rather than paying
attention to the citizens around them. Officers don’t pay attention now and are often occupied with their personal phones and tablets. Attention and real-time awareness are crucial.
Utilizing Community Resources
Utilization of community resources is a sometimes-overlooked treasure. Resources in the community who seem to want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem are important to seek out and enlist in the battle. Also, one idea might be to invite protestors to apply to be police officers just as Chief David Brown did in Dallas, Texas. Then train those accepted to be the best they can be. Then put them in their own neighborhoods to begin the process of solving many of the problems they have heretofore protested. This can be a real “put-up or shut-up” moment and a chance to allow those who know the problems better than most to begin the process of finding solutions.
We have to be careful about what we ask police officers to do. There is much they do, and probably
much more that they can do within a personal community. They cannot handle all of the ills of any society or even a microcosm of any society such as a specific community. They can, however, make a distinct contribution if they are given the chance to do so. They must earn community support in their selected community. They must always have the support of their department in order to do what needs to be done. And, when the “shit hits the fan,” each and every community-based officer must know that
their department, their supervisors,
departmental policies and other officers will support their efforts and assist where they can. This is not a call for unsupervised policing but for policing that allows officers to respond distinctly and directly to issues they might encounter that may differ from the norm or from that which is expected. As it should be, all citizens should be interested in what the police must do to perform their functions. And, all police should be interested and aware of what those in their community must do to survive, exist, go from day to day, and to live their lives safely and securely. How we do this will probably be different for different cities and communities. We should expect this and prepare officers to function in such surrounds. As the famous Dr. Edward S. Rosenbluh reminded all of us for years, “To be helpful, we must be effective.” Don’t forget it. There is a difference between protesting or complaining and getting involved. Involvement allows all to be a part of solving the problems. However, these attempts at problem solving must be effective in order to be helpful.
President Obama noted that one of the problems between police and the communities they serve is that we ask police to do too much. We ask them to do many of the things that community members should be doing for themselves and for each other, and often may fail to do. An involved, committed officer, living in the particular community, can be a great catalyst for such a change in focus by those the officer serves and protects.
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