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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Woodland (California) Police Department (WPD) officers can be found in a wide variety of locations throughout this small city near Sacramento—sometimes even under a parachute, where WPD Patrol Officer Miguel Vega can be seen in this month’s winning photo contest image.
Three times a year, spring, summer, and fall, in partnership with UNIDOS, a Hispanic community outreach program which provides assistance to Spanish speaking residents of Woodland, the WPD hosts a popular event called “Paletas con Policia” (Popsicles with Police). In addition to giving frozen treats to children and adults, the officers join in activities such as the Roll-to-a-Friend Parachute game, in which players lift the edges of the fabric or punch it up from underneath to direct the balls to their team members on the other side.
“It’s a blast,” Officer Vega says. “Everybody has so much fun. And I especially enjoy it because it’s a way to start casual conversations and gain the trust of people in our Hispanic community, who are often afraid of police.”
“Many are recent immigrants who had bad experiences with law enforcement in their former homes,” Vega explains. “They’re also afraid that we might deport them. In my experience, especially in domestic violence and child abuse cases, crimes go unreported for fear that the victim or his or her family will be sent back to the country they came from. And I welcome this opportunity to talk about that, to say that we don’t do that.”
According to Vega, though the kids are initially the friendliest, the parents quickly warm up too and ask a lot of questions. He says the main topics are domestic violence and the rise of drug use. Parents ask how they can be more aware of what their children are doing and how they should talk to them to warn them away from trouble.
Another event Vega enjoys comes to Woodland in December when Santa and Mrs. Claus make a special appearance in neighborhoods throughout the town, courtesy of WPD.
The department created a float with Santa and Mrs. Claus riding in a police car “sleigh.” Pulled by a WPD truck in a parade that includes a festively decorated fire truck and floats created by other city departments, Santa and his wife tour the city over a three-night period, bringing joy to community members who stand in their front yards to welcome them. To be sure no child misses the float, the WPD posts its locations continuously through its GPS tracking system.
But community policing is much more than fun and games, and the WPD runs several strategic policing programs, including two collaborative initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence.
One, called Youth Gang Reduction, Intervention & Prevention (YGRIP) works to suppress, prevent and intervene in gang violence through collaboration with mental health and other resources provided by local agencies.
The second program, which was created in Richmond, California in 2010, at the height of that city’s gun violence, is called Advance Peace. Designed to reduce these crimes by investing in the development, health, and wellbeing of those at the center of this crisis, it has been introduced successfully in other cities including Woodland. The keys to the Advance Peace’s success are street outreach, mentoring, intensive case management, life skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy, and subsidized employment.
Since deploying these programs in collaboration with the city of Woodland, the number of shootings has dropped significantly. Said WPD Deputy Chief Anthony Cucchi, “We had over 40 confirmed shootings last year . As of July this year, we have had four.”
Another program aimed at reducing crime as well as illegal drug use and gang activity is the Woodland Crime Free Multi-Housing Program. Its purpose is to gain the commitment of rental property owners, managers, tenants, and the community to maintain properties free of illegal or destructive activity and to promote a higher quality of life within each neighborhood.
WPD provides eight-hour training seminars for property managers on topics such as tenant screening, crime prevention, evictions, and drug/gang recognition. The department also does a security assessment of each participating property to certify that minimum safety requirements are met and also supports crime prevention meetings held by property managers for their tenants.
The victims of crime are another priority of the department, as well as the focus of WPD’s newest program, Safe Place. Developed by the Seattle Police Department to address the underreporting of hate crimes and other incidents, it provides locations where anybody who has been victimized or feels threated can seek shelter and ask for help.
Open to businesses, social service organizations, and government agencies, it requires that current and future staff of the participants receive Safe Place training. They must also agree to call 911 and allow any victim seeking safety to remain on the premises until police arrive. To make these locations easily recognizable, WPD provides Safe Place decals to put on their door.
Since its implementation in the spring of this year, Woodland’s Safe Place network already has gained a wide variety of participants—schools, municipal buildings, business establishments, counseling centers and other organizations—which have agreed to collaborate with police in protecting individuals who have been victimized or threatened.
“It shows the community that hate has no place here,” Cucchi said. “We have a lot of undocumented individuals here who fear being deported. And we’d rather get to the bottom of any racist or threatening behavior, not only what’s aimed at Hispanic residents, but members of the LBTQ community, children who are bullied, and others.”
In a statement to the press that reflects the department’s dedication to the community policing philosophy of inclusiveness and collaboration, Woodland Police Department Chief Derrek Kaff said, “We are sending a very clear message that discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion will not be tolerated in the City of Woodland.”
Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer
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