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April 2017 | Volume 10 | Issue 4

The COPS Office is pleased to feature the April 2017 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest – The Providence Police Department. The winning photo captures a dance-off between two officers and two teens during the Summer Safety Slam, Olneyville’s own National Night Out.

When he moved to Providence, Rhode Island at age 15, Major Oscar Perez knew he wanted to be a police officer. He had always dreamt of becoming an officer, but knew that in his hometown of Medellin, the profession was too dangerous to pursue. When two Providence Police Officers spoke at his high school on career day and he realized how highly respected the profession was in the U.S., he knew that he would eventually fulfill his ultimate career goal.

Serving in the community where he grew up, Perez has an intimate understanding of what it’s like to be an immigrant and a minority in Providence. He embraces the concepts of community policing and encourages other officers to do the same. In his 22 years of service, he says the community has changed for the better because of community policing. “When I first came on, there were a lot of problems. But now we have so many officers that do so much with the community. I’ve definitely seen a change.”

Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, is home to approximately 174,000 residents (as of the 2010 census) with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. It once was a leading manufacturing city, which drew many immigrants to the area. Over time, manufacturing jobs disappeared, leaving many families struggling to make ends meet. Now, Providence is home to a number of wealthy residents, but also to a significant number of residents living below the poverty line, especially in the neighborhood of Olneyville.

Captain Dean Isabella grew up in the Olneyville area and understands the challenges that its residents face. He works closely with the non-profit organization One Neighborhood Builders (formerly the Olneyville Housing Corporation) to not only help revitalize the community through the development of housing and commercial real estate, but to develop community programs that bring youth and police together. “Anything we can do to change the circumstances of our residents helps us do our jobs better,” he emphasized.

Providence Police Department Badge
Isabella’s 30-year career with the Providence Police Department (PPD) has been a great one, he shared. “I always had a desire to be a police officer. I don’t know where it came from, but one of my biggest fears was that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I’ve been blessed to work at a great police department where I love coming to work. It doesn’t feel like work.” 

There is no doubt about his passion for community policing when he speaks of PPD’s policing model. When the department changed leadership around 2000, it changed its approach to policing and incorporated a community policing model. Isabella shared that the department went from a traditional model of policing to a more decentralized community based model that works closely with nontraditional police partners such as social service agencies, community organizations, and both non-profit and for-profit organizations. “We let the community tell us what their issues are and how we can best help to solve their problems. We do that with many of the social organizations that help with issues like lack of education, lack of housing, and others. It’s been a very fruitful partnership,” he explained. “If an issue does come up with the community that can be controversial, we have relationships where we can speak transparently with the community to discuss the issue before it becomes a bigger problem. We’ve got open dialogue with the community. We have processes in place that make that possible.”

“That’s the reason you selected our photo,” Isabella continued. “We have relationships with the community and work with them on a daily basis. It’s how policing should be done and how we’ll continue to do it.”

The winning photo was taken at one of many community events hosted by the department. Perez is one of the officers taking part in a dance off with two girls, one of whom regularly attends PPD events. “That was the Nay-Nay. I personally love that song,” he laughed.

“These community events are so important to us… A lot of us grew up in the city. We have relationships,” Isabella chimed in. “We understand what it’s like to grow up in challenging neighborhoods and be perceived as not the best. Policing is about having relationships. That picture is a real moment. It’s organic.”

“Major Perez has been promoted since that picture. I’d like to say it’s because of this photo,” giggled Tina Shepherd, Community Director at One Neighborhood Builders. She works closely with Perez, Isabella and other PPD officers in Olneyville to create events and opportunities to build relationships of trust between the police and residents.

“Events really give our residents the opportunity to see police in a different light. It might not seem all that major, but some of residents only see officers in a negative space. This gives both sides the opportunity to put barriers down a bit and see the human side,” she said. “Now people are more likely to stop and talk to an officer at an event than they were before.”

Providence Police Officer James Lanier and Major Oscar Perez dancing with two Providence teens.

She shared that Olneyville is home to primarily Latino residents who are highly mistrustful of the police. Because of the partnership with the PPD, residents are slowly becoming more comfortable with officers. “I’ll have residents that see something and still won’t call the police. They’ll call me to call the police. But at the same time, I have a resident who wouldn’t even get in the car with an officer last year, who this year wanted to set up an event with the PPD to support the Dallas Police officers. I also know of a female officer who is at every event. Residents know that she’s not from the area and has no family here. During the holidays, residents call her to make sure she has dinner. They’ll make her a plate.”

The COPS Office congratulates the Providence Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2017 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.

Written with contributions from Providence Police Captain Dean Isabella and Major Oscar Perez and Community Director of One Neighborhood Builders, Tina Shepherd. Photo courtesy of the Archie Johnson.

Najla Haywood
Managing Editor
The COPS Office

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