NATS Initiative Provides Fitting End to a Disorderly Problem in Maine
Robert Bryant, Police Chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation in Indian Island, Maine, was besieged not long ago by tribal members complaining about disorderly youth gathering in the neighborhoods and disturbing residents throughout the night with their loud music and horseplay. Some were even accused of vandalism and thefts that had occurred in yards and driveways during the long, northern Maine nights.
Seeking a solution, Chief Bryant made several phone calls to his peers asking for advice and assistance. One colleague told him about a new initiative called the COPS Native American Training Series (NATS) funded by the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office). The chief said he was familiar with community policing and his agency had even tried implementing some of the concepts back when he was an investigator, but it lacked support from both the former administration and the community and soon faded away. The friend insisted that he make a call and give this program a chance. With little to lose and everything to gain, Chief Bryant reluctantly called Dennis Cusick, the Executive Director of the Upper Midwest Community Policing Institute (UMCPI).
Cusick, a former police chief, told Bryant about the NATS program and its culturally acceptable Native American format and content. He advised him the program was based on successfully implemented community policing initiatives that had been previously published by the COPS Office and were now being adapted to specifically address the needs of the Native American community.
Chief Bryant explained his situation to Dennis and asked for suggestions. Cusick recommended that the chief host a meeting of all concerned community members, and that he and his partner from the Community Safety Institute (CSI) in Dallas, the originators of the NATS idea, would facilitate the session. Bryant agreed and within a few weeks, more than two dozen community stakeholders met in Penobscot to hear the COPS Native American Training Series presentation and discuss public safety issues on the reservation.
Participants learned the concepts of community policing with its emphasis on problem solving, partnerships, and organizational transformation. They discussed important topics ranging from disorderly youth to graffiti and underage drinking to domestic violence. Participants engaged in individual and small group discussions and participated in interactive exercises often discovering that their situation was similar to other tribal communities. The community stakeholders representing a wide variety of civic, social, and service organizations realized that by working together with not only their police partners but each other they could resolve many of the crime and disorder issues of concern to residents.
During the meeting, the much-anticipated discussion of youth issues occurred. NATS facilitators managed the lively debate while listening to concerns and offering suggestions based on both the NATS program and past experience. Residents complained about the youth gathering in the neighborhood at all hours of the day and night. They expressed their displeasure with the types of activities that had occurred, ranging from fun-loving to felonious, depending on who was speaking at the time. Several people noted that many of the young adults were bored, and others pondered on practical concerns such as where the youth would go if residents refused to allow them to gather in the center of the neighborhood. After nearly an hour, participants decided to take this issue up as their first problem-solving project after receiving the NATS instruction.
Before the training concluded, Chief Bryant invited the NATS facilitators and all of the participants and their families back later that evening for a potluck dinner and entertainment. Scores of residents showed up with various dishes and homemade recipes contributing to the evening festivities. As Native American drummers played traditional music and colorfully costumed dancers performed, many of the days participants continued discussions generated during the training sessions, pledging to work together to resolve issues on the reservation.
Now, months later, Chief Bryant stood before a crowd of adults and teens as they dedicated a new tribal coffee shop specifically opened to provide the young adults with a safe place to gather and socialize. A place that was warmer and cozier than the solitary rock they once stood around in the middle of the neighborhood and one that provided drinks, music, and activities. What was once a community concern now had become a problem-solving and partnering community policing success story.
Although Chief Bryant readily admits that most police chiefs would love to have disorderly youth as one of their top concerns, he also acknowledges that this issue was brought to him by the community, important to the residents of his reservation, and best of all solved through the joint efforts of community policing. He also notes that resolving this issue has been a stepping stone to address other concerns and had provided a solid foundation for successful partnership initiatives in the future.
The entire experience energized the chief to such a degree that he decided to apply for funding for a community policing officer when the recent round of COPS Hiring Recovery Program (CHRP) grants were announced. Chief Bryant, encouraged by his experience with NATS and its impact on his community, requested funding for an officer to be dedicated to community policing and building partnerships on the reservation.
In a fitting end to this already happy story, Chief Bryant was recently informed that his agency had been selected to receive funding for a new officer under the 2009 COPS Hiring Recovery Program. His small agency had just increased in size but even more important the informal success community members received by hosting NATS and working together to resolve a community concern would now be formalized throughout the reservation as community policing becomes a way of life in Indian Island.
The Native American Training Series contains fourteen separate training programs based on COPS funded publications and resources including seven presentations designed for tribal police agencies and seven designed for community members. The specific topics covered in the training programs are: