Strong relationships between police and the community are crucial to maintaining and enhancing public safety. Police departments and the community work together to solve crimes, increase safety and strengthen the community. In order for the police and community to effectively communicate, there must be intentional efforts to build trust and collaborate.
Interacting with Police
As a member of the community, you can find many opportunities to be involved and interact with the police. There are many ways to interact with police while also serving your community by participating and volunteering. Many people do not interact with the police outside of the enforcement context. Personal interactions between police and community members build mutual trust which is essential to addressing community concerns and reducing crime.
There are many ways in which the police and the community can engage in positive, non-enforcement environments. Police departments often engage in their communities by hosting events throughout the year in order to develop and strengthen community relations and increase safety. Police departments work hard to engage and work with the community members they serve in positive ways. Finding positive activities, events, and programs to interact, allows for both the community and department to achieve the common goal: a safer community.
Events & Programs
The Omaha Police Department (OPD) hosts many events and programs all over the city and precincts where police officers and the community have opportunities to engage in a positive environment. These programs and events draw in hundreds of community members and provide a safe environment for community members of all ages to engage with the police officers who serve their community. The OPD host a Citizens Academy. This academy is designed for those community members who want to volunteer and learn more about what the department does.
The OPD holds several academies at different precincts throughout the year. The OPD Southeast Precinct hosts several events that draw thousands of community members each year. The Halloween Meet and Treat and Christmas With the Blue have become traditional annual events where officers and community members have built positive relationships, trust, and unity.
The OPD continues to create programs and events such as Pop/Coffee with a Cop, National Night Outs, Easter with Black Police Officers Association (BPOA), and Latino Peace Officers Association (LPOA). Omaha Police Officers also coach through P.A.C.E, Police Athletics for Community Engagement. P.A.C.E offers sports and camps, free of charge, for kids of all ages. There are many exciting opportunities for police and community members of all ages to interact in positive ways. Officer Soto from OPD says, “These events always bring us closer to the community. We want to be out there talking to the community, it is a goal we want to achieve every day.”
Officer Soto has been on the force with the Omaha Police Department for 14 years. He spent several years on the Uniform Patrol Unit before moving to the Crime Prevention Unit. Throughout the years on the Crime Prevention Unit, he has worked closely with the community and has had the opportunity to build positive relationships. Officer Soto explains the importance of reaching out to everyone and all age groups in the community. He tells us, “one day I am reading books to preschoolers and another I am sharing safety information to senior citizens.”
Officer SOTO took over the Explorer Post program a few years ago and explains that this program has been one of the most influential. This is another opportunity for the community to learn about the department and become involved. The Explorer Post program provides students and young adults who are interested in a career in law enforcement with an insight into what the career looks like. Officer Soto has designed this program to give students hands-on experience and challenges students to become responsible and active citizens in their communities. Explorers in the program volunteer alongside officers at many community events. Explorers are given a valuable experience that they can take with them regardless of the field they chose to pursue. Many explorers have joined the program and left with lifelong friendships and great relationships with police officers.
Maria Rangel was an Explorer for almost sevens years. She joined the OPD Explorer program when she was a freshman in high school. She quickly ranked within the program because of her commitment to volunteering in the community. Once Maria aged out of Explorers at 21, she became an official volunteer for OPD to continue to be involved and volunteer with the Explorers program. Throughout her experience as an Explorer, Maria formed great friendships and connections with her fellow Explorers and many officers.
Maria trusts officers when she needs help or has any concerns, she said, “They became individuals who I can come to for help or any concerns as well as references to jobs and such. I believe all my past opportunities are thanks to them.” Maria has had the opportunity to go through several Explorer sessions with Officer Soto and says he is an amazing mentor, friend, and huge asset to the community. Officer Soto has been a role model to Maria and has opened the door to a law enforcement career for her. Maria knows the importance and effectiveness of positive police-community relations and wants to make a difference. She is currently going through the hiring process to become a police officer for OPD.
First Responders Foundation
This is just one of many stories where positive relations and engagement lead to trust and partnerships. The goal and purpose of community programming and events are to educate the community about the police department, enhance public safety and trust between departments and citizens. Officers encourage the community to become involved and engaged.
This article is written focusing on the Omaha Police Department. Other departments throughout the metro and surrounding area hold citizens academies and events where the public and police officers can engage in positive ways. Other departments will be highlighted in the future. We will also share event details where the public can interact with police and fire departments in the metro area on our social media platforms.
By Erica Rivera-Briceno, First Responders Foundation Intern and Criminal Justice Major at UNO.