Community policing is a philosophy that goes far beyond just shaking hands and kissing babies. In modern day policing, community engagement has real value to U.S. law enforcement agencies as well as to the citizens they serve. Across the country there is a trend among the law enforcement community of joining forces with their constituency through the exchange of information and ideas, the promotion of harmonious police–community relationships, and collaboratively working to improve methods of service delivery to address community issues. Public Safety Citizen Advisory Boards are one way in which law enforcement agencies can further put the community policing philosophy into practice.
White Plains, New York, is a moderately sized municipality with a highly visible and active police department. The city is diverse and its Department of Public Safety plays a crucial role in ensuring that it remains a safe and secure metropolis. The White Plains Public Safety Citizen Advisory Board was formed to fortify the relationship of the White Plains Department of Public Safety and the citizens of the city. Since its inception, the board has advised on a wide array of issues ranging from enhancing the department’s image to increasing the flow of information between the department and the community. In 2010, the board was informed of a spree of car break-ins that instilled fear in the community. The board informed the community of the department’s efforts to investigate the matter and deter further criminal activity from taking place. By going to local neighborhood associations and spreading the word about the break-ins, further activity was deterred and the fear associated with the robberies was diminished. As a result of the department’s two pronged approach of engaging the community and forming a detail assigned to catching the perpetrators, the matter was resolved and the overall sense of safety within the community returned.
In addition to allowing for an easy exchange of information between the Department of Public Safety and the community, the advisory board has assisted in giving the community an opportunity to get a first hand look at the day-to-day functions of the department through the creation of a citizens academy. The citizens academy is composed of a 3-month informational seminar aimed at giving its participants an in-depth understanding of the inner operations of the public safety department. The academy starts by giving overviews of both the police and fire services, and then narrows into the specific functions of the units that comprise the entire department. To date, the citizens academy has graduated four classes and is currently offering a seminar aimed specifically toward students interested in public safety careers. The youth-oriented academy acts as a way to expose young adults to law enforcement and the plethora of career opportunities available to them. Similar programs have proved to be a great way for young adults to get a closer look at the world of policing, and have also focused on character building, developing leadership skills, and community service.1
The board has also offered its support to inaugurate two K-9 units for the police department. The amicable relationship with the community, which was fortified through the creation of the advisory board, allowed for the police department to raise the funds necessary for the K-9’s and their handlers without increasing the cost to taxpayers. With the board’s assistance, Commissioner David Chong was able to ease the overall budgetary constraints of the K-9 units by not only raising the money needed to purchase and train the K-9s, but also arranging for substantial donations of services and products from local merchants, which kept the costs associated with the upkeep of the K-9s at zero dollars in the city budget. As a result, the corporate community has donated food and nutritional supplements, veterinary care, and other services that would have otherwise created an increased operating cost for the unit in the city budget.
During the recent economic downturn, White Plains, along with municipalities throughout the country, experienced an increase in petty larceny offenses. The board helped respond to the epidemic by working with the commissioner and district attorney to advocate for prosecution of all petty larceny offenses within the city. Commissioner Chong petitioned the assistance of the board in working with community leaders in alerting the public that acts of petty larceny in the community would not be tolerated. Taxi cabs that operated in the confines of the city were asked to post fliers, outreach groups talked to their members, and the local chamber of commerce chapter strongly encouraged its small business owners to cooperate with law enforcement in the prosecution of offenders. Together, these efforts allowed for the White Plains Police Department and the Westchester County District Attorney to take a stronger approach to perpetrators and reduce the overall crime rate for two consecutive years. The board has continued to work directly with the commissioner of public safety on several ad campaigns, alerting and deterring the public on other matters such as crime trends, distributing information on new traffic codes, and increasing awareness on the department’s initiatives and mission.
When asked to comment on the advisory board, Commissioner Chong stated, “The Citizen’s Advisory Board gives me the unique opportunity to sit down in a casual setting with highly motivated stakeholders and to discus public safety and resident goals. The exchange between the advisory board and members of my executive staff as well as myself, is honest, frank, and to the point. The meetings have provided a new transparency between public safety operations and stakeholder perceptions.”
In sticking with the core values of community policing, the White Plains Public Safety Advisory Board has united itself with the community. As a result, the formation of the advisory board has offered a proactive solution to the department’s costly problem of not being connected to those they served. Upon its inception, the board addressed immediate conditions that gave rise to crime, fear of crime, and social disorder, which over time, built a priceless public–private partnership benefiting all parties involved.
White Plains Public Safety Advisory Board Member
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