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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Branson (Missouri) Police Department as the December 2020 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo shows Branson Police Department (BPD) Officer Corey Hodzick posing on the hood of a patrol car with a local girl.
National Nights Out are very popular as well as geographically widespread in Branson, Missouri, where as many as 14 different neighborhoods host their own festivities. Bringing local people together with law enforcement and other first responders, these events are as much about building relationships as they are about having a good time—as can be seen in the 2019 photo of Branson Police Department (BPD) Officer Corey Hodzick posing on the hood of a patrol car with a local girl.
While children played in bouncy houses, firefighters grilled hot dogs, and church groups whipped up cotton candy, BPD officers and local people chatted about everyday concerns. Says BPD Assistant Chief Eric Schmitt, “We focus on making National Night Out fun for kids, but it’s an excellent way to connect with adults too—and that connection is critical to the livability and public safety of Branson.
“And this is not just a police and fire department event,” he says. “All of Branson’s city departments, including Public Works, Utilities, and Parks and Recreation, join in to meet local people and introduce them to their services.”
“We do a couple of things differently from most National Nights Out,” Assistant Chief Schmitt adds. “For instance, getting permission to hold ours in October, which is not as hot and humid as August. We also have separate events in different neighborhoods, so we can get to know what their particular issues are and encourage the residents to get to know each other. There’s a wide range of incomes and needs here,” Schmitt notes. “Many people work in service industry jobs and some live in extended stay motels. Other community members live in single family residential areas. So we put a team together for each neighborhood.
“Because these events are smaller, it’s easier for people to ask questions and get to know us and their neighbors,” he says. “This strengthens community bonds and security. When folks know their neighbors, they’re likely to keep an eye out for each other and call us if they see something suspicious. So we also sponsor a lot of block parties and other events throughout the year.
“And because they’re familiar with us, people call to ask for help with a wide range of problems, many unrelated to law enforcement. But that’s okay—it builds relationships and helps us stay on top of things. We want to be proactive, and the only way to do that is to know what the community’s concerns are, so we can address even the small problems before they become big ones.”
Another thing that sets the BPD apart from most agencies is that their city and its surrounding area is a major tourist destination.
With more than 50 entertainment venues, many featuring live music, comedy, and variety shows, Branson claims to have more theater seats than New York City’s Broadway district. The city’s location in the Ozark mountains makes it a favorite destination for hikers, bikers, and family vacations too. As a result, this small town of about 12,000 residents can have 40,000–50,000 people on its streets at any time.
Emphasizing neighborhood collaboration is critical to maintaining public order and safety. Assistant Chief Schmitt says the department encourages people to call when they see suspicious activity. “Some people are reluctant to ask for help, thinking that they are bothering us for lesser issues. But we are highly trained professionals, and cautious, as well as here to serve them.”
He notes that the Branson community is very supportive of the police and their mission, which he attributes to the department’s always try to make a positive difference in the community. “Community policing is often about the little stuff,” he notes. “Getting out of the car and into the community doesn’t have to be about law enforcement. It could be just talking to somebody about their dog—or sitting on a squad car with a local child at a National Night Out. Building friendships encourages the community to participate in keeping them safe and helps us serve them.”
Written by Sr. Technical Writer, Faye Elkins, with contributions from Branson Police Department Assistant Chief Eric Schmitt.For more information on Community Policing, see Making Cities Safe Through Community Policing: A Meeting of Mayors and Police Chiefs to Examine the Value of Effective Community Policing in the Nation's Cities.
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