Back of the Book
Making communities safer places to live and thrive
September 28, 2022 By Tom Wetzel and Denise DeBiase
Have you ever stopped into your local coffee shop and watched police officers having a cup of coffee with patrons just talking about what’s going on in the neighbourhood? How about when you’re fuelling up at the local gas station and an officer is picking up a snack while talking with the owner? It’s not that anyone has gotten into trouble at either place; it’s just called community policing.
Throughout most of our careers, we have placed a high premium on the principles of community policing. This manner of policing is all about teamwork as the server (police officers) and the served (their customers) work together to make their community safer places to live and thrive.
Last year, current law enforcement officers were asked what they wanted out of their career. The overwhelming majority chose a law enforcement career because they want to serve their communities. Once on the job, serving the community was the most satisfying aspect of the job, which was followed closely by crime-fighting. Third on the list was community interaction. Just from these statistics alone, we can easily understand the mindset of the community policing officer on the beat.
Too often, police officers meet people when they’re not at their finest. We may encounter them because they are a victim of crime or hurt in a traffic accident. It might be situations where we are pulling them over for a traffic violation or visiting their home for a domestic disturbance. It’s not healthy for officers to only encounter people in these types of situations. Community policing allows them to interact with people in so many different and positive ways.
You might see it in spontaneous moments where officers jump out of their cruiser and start playing basketball or a game of catch in the street with kids. Or you may see it in a more organized fashion like a “Skating with a Cop” event or “Shop with a Cop” around Christmas. We recently thought outside of the box and added a new component to our community policing mission: a cute, white German Shepherd named Angel.
Community policing allows them to interact with people in so many different and positive ways.
Angel’s job is to go out and “chase” away the fear of interacting with a police officer. Instead of sniffing for drugs, she likes to sniff shoes to see if the human has pets at home. She can encounter people when they are having a good or bad day and she makes a lot of people happy and talkative. Most people just want to pet her and feel her soft fur because it reminds them of the pet they left at home. Several people have wept just being able to pet her because it reminds them of an old dog they had. Others see her as bringing “the happy” to their job, like at a bank in our city where they give her plenty of love and treats, or at the schools, where kids can forget about schoolwork or a sprained ankle for a moment.
Angel has turned into a local celebrity and people look forward to seeing her wherever she goes, and she gratefully acknowledges the love and affection she gets. It’s a whole new connection to the community and we hope for her to bring us closer to bridging the gap.
Which now leads us to what Sir Robert Peele stated in the second of nine principles crucial to modern day law enforcement: “To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and in their ability to secure and maintain public respect.” We believe that Angel has an incredible amount of public approval and we have secured more respect because of it.
Preventing and solving crime and making our neighborhoods safer places to live and thrive can be achieved through adhering to community policing principles. But the real beauty of community policing is that it feels good for both the server and the served, and that is what’s special.
Tom Wetzel is the chief of police in Richmond Heights, Ohio, a Northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant and former SWAT commander. He is also a certified law enforcement executive, adjunct professor in community policing and internationally published author on police topics.
Lt. Denise DeBiase has been a member of the Richmond Heights Police Department in Ohio for over 26 years and is currently serving as the executive officer. She is a Certified Law Enforcement Executive in the state, former DARE, bike patrol, crime prevention, and juvenile diversion officer, and detective.
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