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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Cranston (Rhode Island) Police Department as the March 2019 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo features officers Rebekah Neri, Andrea Comella, Ashley Hardy, and Brenda Davis supporting cancer patient Natasha Dufresne before her chemotherapy treatment
The Cranston Police Department (CPD) was having trouble building trust with the community when Colonel Michael Winquist was sworn in as the police chief in 2014. He knew that the department needed a better way to reach the residents; therefore, one of his first actions was to create the Office of Community Outreach. “We wanted to seek out opportunities for the police department to be able to engage with the community and create the solutions that people need.”
Captain Vincent McAteer has spearheaded the department’s community outreach office since its inception. “We are a point position for the department,” said McAteer. “Our primary responsibilities are strategic planning, the establishment of intervention strategies and programs to try and prevent crime throughout the city, as well as addressing the quality of life issues that come through various divisions.”
Chief Winquist credits Captain McAteer and the patrol officers with the success the outreach office has had in the community over the past few years. “[McAteer] has done a really good job with [leading the outreach office] just by being out in the community and finding the solutions that people want,” Winquest explained. “We have a great team of officers here in the city. They’re constantly volunteering their time . . . and they are really connected to the community.”
Captain McAteer says his officers on patrol are “facilitating and carrying out the message of community policing” on a daily basis. He finds that “a lot of the programs that we do have are heavily dependent on the everyday interactions [our officers have] with the public.”
These everyday interactions and conversations are a discovery tool. “A lot of the programs we’ve developed over the years have been ideas that our patrol officers, the ones on the street, have developed on their own,” said Captain McAteer. The officers observe or discuss an issue that residents are facing, and “[the programs] all really come about organically.”
This approach leads to the development of out-of-the-box programs that make everyday tasks easier and safer for residents. The camera registration program allows residents to register their home security camera with the department to prevent crimes and to facilitate investigations in the area. Through a vacation check program, residents can enter their vacation time on the CPD website so officers can check on their homes during their patrol to ensure nothing is out of order. In addition, the department has even permitted the public to use the CPD parking lot as a “safe area” for e-commerce exchanges.
The story behind the winning photo is another example of an interaction that turned into a special idea. Officer Rebekah Neri’s son was being treated for leukemia when she met nine-year-old Natasha Dufresne. Neri’s son had a chemotherapy port placed, and he was scared to have it accessed for the first time. “He was having a difficult time, and so was I,” Neri explained. Natasha, who was going through treatment herself, approached Neri and her son to reassure him and to show her own port to help ease his fears.
This act of kindness resonated with Officer Neri. “The children there are just so brave and resilient. And as a police officer, I would like to think most of us believe that we’re brave, but during this difficult time, here was nine-year-old Natasha going through cancer treatment [and] showing my son, and someone like me, how to be brave.”
Officer Neri wanted to return the compassion that Natasha showed her son by visiting the young girl with her fellow officers before one of Natasha’s treatments. Officers Andrea Comella, Ashley Hardy, and Brenda Davis joined Neri in the visit. “We brought her Wonder Woman decorations and had a girl power theme for the day,” said Neri. She continued, “Currently, Natasha is doing very well and is back in school. There’s been talk of making her chief for a day – when it is a good time for her.”
This special visit is the “type of engagement that [the CPD] wants to encourage all the time,” Captain McAteer said. “[Officer Neri’s] efforts and the efforts of all the ladies in that picture were emblematic of how we approach community policing.”
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