A young officer asked me about community policing the other day. He told me that I was from "that era" (pass the Geritol) and wanted to know what it was like. Ever since 9/11, we have drifted away from community oriented policing. Most of its application and funding streams are now directed to domestic terrorism and security. Yes, I told the officer that I wrote, taught, and was considered a "practitioner,' but I too had to learn the hard way.
NYPD of Yesteryear
A lady in my former city called me at the precinct. She was told about Savannah's epic quest for community policing and was directed to me. We had a genteel conversation and then she asked for the favor. She was the sole care giver for her uncle; he was a New York City police officer that had been retired for nearly 30 years. He had heard about community oriented policing, or COP, on the television and wanted to know what it was.
I granted her request and made an appointment to visit him at her home. He was frail but mentally sharp. He told me he went on the job before WWII and retired in the early '60s. He was proud that he was never a 'radio car officer'; he stood a post or walked a beat every day of his career. So, now it was the young buck's turn to explain what we are doing nowadays. This I did, telling all about the philosophy and application of community policing. Near the end he laughed at me.
He told me that police work in a city (urban environment) lost its track with cars. His quote was that "you cannot step over a drunk lying on the sidewalk, but you can drive by him." This is it in a microcosm; we have used technology to make us work more efficiently and faster, but have left the citizen standing.
He and I then went deeper into the discussion and I learned by listening to his stories. He was able to solve crimes because a good officer to him was someone who knew his neighborhood and its cast of humanity.
So, it matters not where you will be policing, urban or rural. The important thing is that you get out and familiarize yourself with your community; they are your customers.
It was easy now to see the retired officer's pride and what a difference he made back many decades ago. He observed problems, solved problems, and probably was the only contact most of the citizens had with municipal government. He was the direct link to a better city. To him, a good cop was one who took care of his business, and his business was his citizens and his beat.
When I departed that day I felt he had passed on his ideas to make a difference before he would go to his rewards. I thank him for his tutoring this trainer.
In my department we instituted "PWT" or park, walk, and talk in an area or neighborhood. Yes, there are books and training, but if you want to know your community and its needs, to really feel its pulse…get out of the car and spend some shoe leather time. It pays.
Train with heart!