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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Seattle Police Department as the February 2020 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo shows Seattle Police Department officers in a game of chess with local youth.
The Seattle Police Department (SPD), located in Seattle, Washington, plays an instrumental role in encouraging positive relationships with community members from all walks of life. The SPD’s pride in its commitment to the citizens of Seattle is evident in the many programs and projects that SPD officers regularly engage in to promote community engagement.
Not only do Seattle residents appreciate the SPD’s dedication to positive community involvement, but so do SPD officers. Officer Matthew Roberson feels “fortunate to work for [the department] because there is a lot of support and effort to work on community policing.” In fact, Officer Roberson says, the SPD recently reorganized itself to form a Collaborative Policing Bureau. The bureau focuses on various areas of concern, including health and fitness, education, mentorship, and, perhaps most importantly, youth violence prevention and intervention. Roberson notes that the SPD is very involved with local youth because “youth are often overlooked when it comes to decision-making in local government,” which essentially means that a substantial portion of Seattle’s population is neglected.
The SPD has a number of initiatives in place designed to maximize community outreach and engagement. One of the most successful programs is the Seattle Police Activities League (SEAPAL)—a proactive program based on a “prevention-oriented strategy” of “cooperation, coordination, and building relationships between youth, police, and community through recreation and cultural enrichment.” Officer Roberson says this is a popular program because sports, internships, and chess clubs (as shown in the winning photo) are all fostered by SEAPAL. Roberson emphasizes that the frequency of SEAPAL events is what distinguishes the program from others. The SPD has been intentional, he says, and designed a program with activities taking place over the course of two to three “to promote at least 24–32 hours of sustained contact with youth,” which “allows for relationship-building to really blossom.”
Seattle’s youth is not the only group benefitting from the SEAPAL program. The SPD’s officers, over 70 of whom participate in the initiative, have also profited from connecting with youth and giving back to the Seattle community, as it’s a “good change from the work they do on a day-to-day basis.” This is important, because even though the SPD has found great success with community policing, it still deals with its fair share of challenges, just like many other law enforcement agencies across the country, especially to officer morale, recruitment, and retention. However, the department has worked hard in the last few months to tackle these obstacles aggressively. For example, to keep a pulse on officer morale, the department has distributed surveys to its employees to gauge how they are feeling and to highlight any areas needing improvement. Not only that, but the SPD has administered trainings that serve as safe spaces for officers to “talk about mental, emotional, and physical health.” In addition, the SPD’s Peer Support Team has expanded and now focuses on offering support to SPD officers early-on, before mental or physical health problems worsen.
The SPD has even turned to social media to take community engagement to another level. The SPD’s official Instagram account allows it to reach a large audience and shed more light on its community policing.
When asked what advice the SPD would like to give other law enforcement agencies, Officer Roberson strongly encourages departments to “get out with community members and listen to them.” Community policing shows law enforcement officers in a new light: as mentors, friends, and allies. Roberson also recommends that law enforcement agencies form partnerships with groups who share their vision. In his words, great change has “come through collaboration, pooling of resources, and fine-tuning things that are already out there in the community.”
The COPS Office congratulates the Seattle Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2020 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.
Written with contributions from Officer Matthew Roberson of the Seattle Police Department. Photo Courtesy of the Seattle Police Department. The Seattle Police Department’s Photo Contest entry was submitted by the National Police Athletic/Activities League, Inc. (National PAL). For more information about National PAL, check out our article feature and visit their website.
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