Alameda County Sheriff’s Office
In a time when law enforcement agencies are under intense scrutiny, it is important to break down barriers and find new and innovative ways to engage with the community. An important resource being successfully employed by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) is the pop-up park.
The pop-up park is used by ACSO to bring a fun and interactive park anywhere to the community at a moment’s notice. The park consists of two trailers that contain the necessary components of the park. The trailers can be brought to either a large community event or the parking lot of an apartment complex. The first trailer consists of a 15-foot rock wall mounted on a hydraulic frame commonly found at carnivals and county fairs. The second trailer contains rolls of artificial turf, benches, chairs, umbrellas and a foldable foosball table and other games. The second trailer also contains a generator, a popcorn machine, sheriff’s flags and Deputy Windy, which, when inflated, stands 12 feet tall and dances back and forth. The idea for the pop-up park was born out of the necessity to find common ground between deputies and community members so they can build relationships through engaging activities.
When deputies arrive at a pop-up park destination, the rock wall is lifted into place, and the second trailer is quickly unloaded. Artificial turf is rolled out, and tables, chairs, umbrellas and benches are grouped together for relaxed sitting areas under a shade canopy. Next, the popcorn machine is warmed up, and games are brought out and set up. Community members compete against each other on the portable foosball table while deputies throw footballs with kids. The scene is complete with music, and children are encouraged to take anti-tobacco coloring books, crime prevention literature, whistles and stickers.
During a pop-up park event, you can expect to see deputy-led sack races and possible dance-offs, depending on the moment. The crowd favorite is the rock wall, where children can race their parents to the top while deputies cheer them on.
The pop-up park is very recognizable in the community since there are trademark flags with the ACSO logo prominently displayed, with Deputy Windy dancing nearby.
Occasions where a pop-up park can be implemented are limited only by one’s imagination. An example may be the site of a problem apartment complex, where outreach has been a problem because of a high volume of service calls. With this innovative resource, law enforcement professionals can make inroads with residents in an easygoing and engaging manner. The pop-up park can also enhance established community events where traditional static booths are the norm.
The cost of a pop-up park is a significant purchase for any agency. The mobile rock wall is the costliest investment, for a total of $35,000. A new trailer retails for about $15,000, and the games (e.g., foosball table, cornhole, etc.), chairs, tables and umbrellas can be purchased for about $1,500, bringing the total cost to $50,000-plus. Purchase options include COPS grants, regional collaborations between agencies or private funding.
Most recently, ACSO deputies brought the pop-up park to a contingent of individuals in our AB 109 program. In 2011, California voters passed AB 109, known as realignment, which diverts defendants convicted of less serious felonies to serve time in county jails as opposed to state prisons. ACSO employs these individuals through our Deputy Sheriffs’ Athletic League program, and they work at the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub, located on Fairmont Drive. These individuals are attempting to successfully re-enter our community by working and not re-offending. ACSO deputies built trust and broke down barriers using our pop-up park. This was done through sharing a meal and interacting through fun activities.
In all, the pop-up park is an important part of ACSO’s community engagement strategy. Through this proactive and interactive resource, law enforcement professionals have a significant tool to engage the community. Through this resource, law enforcement agencies can redefine community interaction by making contact fun and interactive. It is our hope that resources such as these can help create healthy community partnerships and provide a level of engagement that can enhance the image of local law enforcement.
About the Author
Ruben Pola has over 32 years of law enforcement experience. After retiring from the Hayward Police Department at the rank of sergeant, he started a second career as a deputy with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. He is currently assigned to the Crime Prevention Unit and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.