Excellent returns for community policing.
Perception of Effort
By: Tom Wetzel
“Please provide special attention to…” This is an introduction to a sentence that officers have been hearing or reading for decades. They hear it in roll calls before they take to the road or over radio transmissions. They may read it in a department e-mail or via a chat from dispatch. The requests may range from those based on critical intelligence from a federal source to an elderly resident concerned about speeders on her street. Depending on the source or circumstances, officers may feel apprehension and a heightened sense of awareness to apathy or low concern.
Those who have a high impact on officer safety will likely be taken seriously by nearly all the officers who learn of the special attention broadcast. But it is those that may cause an officer to shrug his shoulders or roll his/her eyes that can provide excellent returns from a community policing perspective. It is here where we can make an impact that is recognized by those we are sworn to protect and serve.
We have all probably had the special attention request for the speed violations on a low-traffic volume residential street. Having driven down this road many times during tours of duty, we may not have seen many actual violations or cars actually driving, for that matter. The ones we do note will likely be driving within a reasonable range of the posted speed limit, albeit possibly because a marked cruiser is visible to them. This complainant’s concern may have resulted from one or two observations of a vehicle travelling at a high rate of speed and at different times of the day.
Trying to catch this speeder at this special attention location with any precision can be a difficult task for an officer. After setting up a couple of details where little in the way of a solid violation is observed may result in limited further action by the officer, especially if it seems that it is a waste of time to set up there.
Something may be lost on the officers. It is not that the request on its face reveals a real traffic problem in need of a patrol car presence, but that it is perceived by those who live there as a problem in need of a solution. This perception presents an excellent opportunity for an agency to demonstrate their commitment to the concerns of those they serve. The solution is often times nothing more than a small but consistent effort to show that we appreciate their input. Because working with them to make our neighborhoods safer places to live and work is an essential component of community policing.
Often times the effort we provide to “community-generated” special attentions can provide our customers with a sense of security that eases their minds. Also, often times they are on to something because they have eyes and ears on their streets far more than we can as we’re responsible for providing coverage to an entire community. When a World War II veteran and long time resident calls about juvenile gang activity, he is probably correct about the problem. By providing extra special attention patrols to the area and assigning undercover fourth platoon personnel to monitor for criminal activity, we may abate a problem early.
It is important for us to really appreciate the opportunities these special attention requests can have and how we make others feel when they ask. For example, when a member of our Greatest Generation who has paid taxes longer than the oldest member of your department has been serving his agency and on one occasion has asked for help from his/her police department, it is important they see a real return on their long time investment in the city’s tax system. They deserve it and we owe it to them because a small but honest effort by us can show them the money they invested in their safety forces was worth it.
Tom Wetzel is a northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant, SWAT officer, trainer and certified law enforcement executive. He holds a black belt in Goshin Jujitsu. He can be reached at email@example.com.