Community policing is not a new expression. It is an important philosophy that has grown to be a substantial aspect of the profession of policing and the role police departments play in their communities. The positive partnerships between police departments and their communities that result from these initiatives help them to work together to proactively identify and solve problems within the community. Community policing can take place through a number of different types of initiatives, programs or events, but the goal of all community policing initiatives is the same: to build relationships and trust with our communities and the people who live and work in them.
In Arlington, we have begun a number of community initiatives over the past several years that have helped our department build relationships in our community and that continue to allow our officers to engage with community members in positive ways. The Citizens Police Academy is one of our most important and successful community programs. The Academy originally started in the 1990s but was discontinued when funds for the program ran out. The Academy, held in the fall, restarted about five years ago with an updated curriculum to align with the advancement that had occurred both in police work and police training.
Today, participants learn about a range of police work during the 10-week Academy. Each week covers a different subject including criminal and special investigations, an overview of policing and dispatch, the court system and traffic law, procedural justice, and patrol procedures. Each subject is broken into three related lessons taught by APD officers and employees. An important part of our curriculum is the session we spend on social services showcasing our work with community partners. This session is co-taught with the community partners we respond with to these calls and covers homeless outreach, our response to calls involving opioids or mental health, and our jail diversion program. Participants are led on a tour of the police station and our on-site evidence lab, and are introduced to different units within APD. Along with classroom-style learning, participants get an inside look at patrol work during the optional ride-along portion where they spend time with an officer to see common patrol work, such as making traffic stops. They also receive hands-on experience during our visit to the Reading Police Academy to participate in live scenarios.
The Academy is a popular program that has been well-received by participants. Previous graduates have expressed that they have gained a much greater understanding of APD processes, operations and training, and have learned about our equipment and services. Our department also enjoys hosting the Academy each year, especially the instructing officers who are able to engage and develop positive relationships with the community members who attend. Overall, it gives people insight into what we do and how we do it beyond what is shared in the news or on social media. With each Academy we hold, we aim to graduate a group of participants who have a deeper understanding of the role of APD. I hope to be able to grow the Academy in coming years and encourage more Arlington residents of varied backgrounds to sign up and participate.
Among our other community programs includes a Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.) class for female residents over the age of 18. Participants in this course are taught comprehensive self-defense techniques by our officers who are nationally certified R.A.D. instructors. The course begins with awareness, prevention, risk-reduction, and risk-avoidance, while progressing to the basics of hands-on defensive training to help participants learn effective ways to protect themselves from aggressors in a range of situations. APD officers participate in a kids camp with the Arlington Recreation and Health and Human Services Departments where they do K-9 demonstrations and a Touch A Truck style activity, as well as teach kids about internet and social media safety. As a more casual means of community involvement, officers assigned to patrols will park their cruiser in a business district, park or playground and walk through the nearby area to check in with business owners and engage with community members. These “Park-and-Walks” allow patrol officers to talk with people in the area, see if they need anything or answer any questions they may have. We also host a number of other community events and educational programs throughout the year, including Coffee with a Cop, Narcan Night, Child Safety Seat Inspections, National Night Out and Touch A Truck.
The most important benefit to any of our community initiatives — which go far beyond what is outlined above — is providing our officers a way to positively engage with community members in a relaxed environment. Each of these programs allows officers to be out in the community to meet and connect with many of the kids and teenagers, residents and business owners in Arlington. APD officers are there to serve the community in many ways beyond what they do in their enforcement capacity, including connecting people with services, answering questions and safety education. We hope that by providing these opportunities for officers and residents to engage, people will be more comfortable contacting the department in the future if they need help in any way. Positive relationships and partnerships with the community are crucial to the effectiveness, value and legitimacy of a police department and I am committed to continuing to grow and improve this department’s relationship with the community through a variety of events and programs.
Chief of Police Julie Flaherty