Building Trust: Cops in the Community (Part 1)
Monday night at Centennial Park in Brooklyn Center, the police department kicked off their National Night Out celebration a day early.
“Just a good chance for our officers and city staff to interact with our residents in a positive manner, as well as a way for our residents to interact with us,” said Brooklyn Center Police Commander Rick Gabler
The event helped Brooklyn Center police showcase their human side, while building trust in the process.
“I’ve been with Brooklyn Center for 13 years and I’ve always noticed a positive connection between the police and the community,” Gabler said. “But again, it’s something we’re always working on. We’re never there. We’re never where we want to be. These relationships are ongoing and they need to be maintained and that’s something that we’ve worked on.”
The relationships need to be maintained, in part, because of headline-making officer-involved shootings.
In north Minneapolis, a roadside memorial still exists for Jamar Clark, a black man who was shot to death in 2015 by Minneapolis police during a confrontation. The incident set off weeks of protests.
“It’s a tough job. They’ve got to make split second decisions,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, referring to police officers.
Freeman announced several months after the Jamar Clark incident that his office wouldn’t bring charges against the officers involved. He says he has seen a breakdown in trust between police and the community firsthand.
“Minneapolis police need to learn to de-escalate situations, instead of escalating them,” Freeman said. “They can shout and yell and use their guns, but we do a lot better if we say, hold on, calm down. Let’s talk about this.”
Events like the Brooklyn Center kickoff party help establish trust and maintain relationships, but their outreach efforts go well beyond National Night Out.
Open Gym Builds Relationships with Youth
Every Thursday during Minnesota’s warmer months, officers from Brooklyn Center’s street crimes unit gather in a gym near the high school to play sports with local youth.
“I was like, okay, let’s go. If the cops want to play, let’s go,” said Sahr Momrie of Brooklyn Center.
Anyone who shows up to open gym receives snacks, a bottle of Gatorade, and the chance to see how their athleticism stacks up against Brooklyn Center’s finest.
“We see the vast majority of these kids out on the street every day when we’re out doing our regular patrol activities,” said Brooklyn Center Officer Cody Turner. “So it’s nice to see them here in the gym. We get to hang out with them, and then when we see them on the street, we already have that connection that we’ve built them.”
Officer Turner is a 10-year veteran of the department. He says open gym goes a long way toward building trust and establishing relationships with neighborhood kids.
“They get to hang out with us, play a little bit of basketball. They go home, tell their friends about it, they tell their parents about it, and I think it helps them understand that we’re human, just like everybody else,” Turner said.
Meanwhile, it’s not just youth that police want to reach.
Park Meetings Bring City Officials to Neighborhoods
Brooklyn Center holds neighborhood park meetings several times a year where the public can interact with police and other city officials.
“It’s a smaller group, and a lot of times the questions that are asked are really relevant to that group, and that part of the city, so it really focuses in on that one specific area,” said Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon. “So it has been much more successful that way.”
Successful because the city department heads go to where the people live. It’s an interaction that dates back to 2008.
“In 2008 it definitely was unique,” Chief Gannon said. “I think we started a trend. I think we see now more and more cities doing this and actually bringing city employees to the citizens where they live is the best way to do it. So I think we can do more and more, but I think we’ve blazed that trail.”
Police Department Can’t Get Complacent
Yet even though the department has a number of outreach programs in place, police admit they can’t get complacent when it comes to building trust. The hope is that if a high profile incident like the Jamar Clark shooting were to happen in Brooklyn Center, that they’ve established enough good will to maintain the public’s trust.
“Well we certainly hope so,” Commander Gabler said. “We have had some of those incidents in the past, and it didn’t get the media attention that you’ve seen recently. And I’d say a lot of that is attributed to the partnerships and the trust and all the work we’ve done.”
Another outreach effort the department wanted to highlight is the Multicultural Advisory Committee. In Brooklyn Center, one out of every four residents is foreign born, and in many of those places, the police aren’t credible.
The Multicultural Advisory Committee works to minimize those fears and educate people on police initiatives.