The PORAC News Roundup
Cops as Part of the Community
Law enforcement is in place to help smooth the rough edges of our society. Unfortunately, the situation between police officers and citizens in the United States has become combustible. Look no further than near-daily headlines criticizing officers for responding too strongly or headlines of the stories where responses were perceived as too weak. New York, South Carolina, San Bernardino, Ferguson: These stories are emblazoned in our consciousness and now affect the job a cop does every single day.
Officers will soon be tethered by cameras on their person, providing an additional vantage point to the cameras already catching everything seen through the dash of a squad car. This is multiplied by the personal cameras live at every scene.
Every incident will undoubtedly be held to scrutiny, both in the judicial system and in the hearts and minds of the public. Our culture is one to jump quickly to conclusions, while the facts can struggle to reach the conversation.
This is our new reality. Where being injured on the job used to be the everyday fear of an officer, now the fear is being ambushed at a stoplight. Or being taped on a camera phone by bystanders from four angles and uploaded to mobile applications where thousands of other videos are vying to catch their viral “gotcha” moment.
It is up to each of us to rebuild. We begin, of course, by reiterating our commitment to the safety of those we serve. Now is the time to start, or continue, being visible in your community and building the relationships that are critical not only in the good times, but in those instances where you must ask your neighbors to support you through the difficult times.
The most important first step is to create an open dialogue and build a sense of trust.
Hosting an event is a simple way to show that your members are also invested in the community. This gives your neighbors an opportunity to meet local public safety members, ask questions and learn helpful safety information. You can be seen as a person who cares, and not just as an authority figure. All of this builds your rapport within your city.
These can be informal events held at a local coffee shop, or orchestrated events held in tandem with other organizations. We realize it can be difficult to commit the time to these events, with already stretched-thin staffing and family obligations, but oftentimes the events can be a snap to put together and make successful.
An option is to join with other local groups as a sponsor of their events. Groups that may be looking for sponsors (not only monetary sponsors, but “sponsors” to volunteer time and/or resources) could be:
- Boys and Girls Clubs
- Local sports leagues (Little League Baseball and Basketball, youth soccer)
- School districts
- Church groups
- Local nonprofit groups (women’s shelters, food banks)
- Animal welfare groups (SPCA)
You can also approach your local parks and recreation districts to see if they are hosting any summer camps or other summer activities for which they are looking for sponsorships or volunteers.
Minor league sports teams are also a great resource. Does your city have a minor league baseball team? How about throwing out the first pitch? Bring your members to a game and be available to answer questions and chat with those in attendance.
Thinking of putting together your own event? There is a wealth of ideas to glean from. For example:
Coffee With a Cop: These events have been highly successful for many POAs in recent years. Call up your local coffee shop, make sure it’s OK to take over an area of their lobby and bring some POA/DSA branded goodies to give out.
Ice cream social: As the temperatures rise, a great option is to have an event at a local ice cream parlor. They may even give you a small discount on ice cream cones or other items, a big plus during tough economic times.
Barbecues: We know a lot of you do this already, but hosting a barbecue is always an easy and inexpensive option. Buy some hot dogs, burgers and buns, and some sodas and water. Provide activities for the children while you speak with their parents (see below).
Senior safety events: Head over to your local senior living facility and discuss ways your older neighbors can stay safe, avoid being scammed, contact emergency personnel, etc. These complexes are often struggling to find new ways to entertain their captive audience and local public safety members taking the time to visit can make residents feel safer and more comfortable.
Bike safety clinics: Team up with your local sporting goods store or school to hold an event demonstrating how to properly wear a helmet, the necessary safety items needed when going for a bike ride (lights, reflective gear, pumped-up tires, etc.), and other safe bike riding information.
Water safety seminar: It’s hot. People naturally head to the water during the summer. Why not pop a tent by the nearest river or lake and remind people of the importance of wearing a life vest, limiting alcohol consumption on the water, keeping hydrated, etc.?
Drought 101 events: California is in the midst of the worst drought we have seen since recordkeeping began. People are worried about what to do and how to adjust. Team with your local water district or city/county to share tips on how to conserve water, and educate citizens on the importance of being water wise.
When organizing these events, remember it’s a good time to supply attendees with information that they can take home. Ideas include:
- Magnets with emergency contact numbers
- Stickers with your POA/DSA logo
- Coloring books with safety tips, branded with your logo
- Association pens or pads of paper
Having something to entertain the young people is a great idea, as it gives you unfettered time to chat with the parents while the kids are occupied:
- Bring in a volunteer to paint faces or make balloon animals
- Do a craft project
- Give away bike helmets, sporting equipment, backpacks or other items that kids can use throughout the year
- Offer fingerprinting so parents can have this important information on hand in case of an emergency
Be sure to notify your local media of the upcoming events, as this is a perfect time for some meaningful stories that encourage positive discussions. Take lots of pictures (be sure to ask for permission), as they make for great social media content. Always be sure to post on your POA/DSA Facebook page in advance of these events, as those flyers are easily shareable by your followers.
While we can all agree we have significant ground to recover, we have to emphasize the importance of taking these actions. Building trust and earning the respect of those you serve depends on you.