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Local Police Officials: Engaging Community Important for Public Trust

Police are encouraged to be proactive in engaging with the community, especially young people.

(TNS) - As tensions continue nationally in the aftermath of several high-profile deadly encounters involving police over the last several weeks, including the deaths of officers in both Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Dallas, Texas, police departments from the Wyoming Valley are actively trying to build bridges with the communities they serve.

At a recent Wilkes-Barre, Pa., city council meeting, Eric Bieski encouraged the city’s police department to be proactive in their efforts to interface with members of the community, especially young people.

Bieski, a Wilkes-Barre resident, said that in his experience, many of those who have moved to the area from big cities lack a sense of trust for police.

“There is a clear rift and divide in this country that we need to address,” he said.

Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Marcella Lendacky said “National Night Out,” to be held Aug. 2, will provide just such an opportunity.

“Following a short program in front of police headquarters, with guest speaker Sean Quinn, director of the FBI’s Scranton office, officers will be deployed into neighborhoods for community patrols such as ‘park and walk’ and ‘knock and talk’,” she said.

Lendacky said members of her department respond to crime with fairness, regardless of race, nationality or gender.

She said with an increasing amount of cameras in the community, including those on businesses and cell phones, police are held accountable for their actions.

City police officers, she said, put a high priority on serving the residents of the community and keeping them safe.

“If they didn’t feel that way,” she said, “they would find another job.”

Mutual trust

Wyoming borough Mayor Bob Boyer shares Lendacky’s hope that police departments can continue to build bridges with members of the community.

“When they think about police, lately it’s in an ‘us versus them’ mentality,” he said. “This shouldn’t be the case.”

Boyer, who has taught criminal justice at Luzerne County Community College for upwards of 20 years and who served as a police officer in various West Side municipalities for over 30 year, said the key is proactively building relationships between police departments and the residents they serve.

“The ideal is a partnership between police and residents based on mutual trust – identifying and working to solve problems,” he said.

Kingston Police Chief Chief Michael Krzywicki agrees.

Krzywicki said that although residents often attribute their latest traffic ticket or parking citation to police, in reality, police are those they call when in trouble.

“For example, even in domestic disputes – we try to help. We can’t fix the problem, but we can refer people to resources, like counseling,” he said.

Krzywicki said in recent weeks, the department has received only positive response from area residents, with several food trays coming in with notes of encouragement.

Still, he acknowledges that in the last several years, following several incidents of alleged police brutality, relations between police officers and residents have been strained.

“People used to see you in uniform and open the door for you, or give some positive input,” he said. “That doesn’t always happen anymore.”

Community policing

Boyer said the key to maintaining police support and public safety is implementing a concept called “community policing,” which originated in the 1980s.

The concept operates on the premise that the “knock-and-talks” and “park-and-walks” that Lendacky mentioned, done during routine patrols, would assist police in getting to know the dynamics of various neighborhoods, which facilitates early identification of problems.

“Community policing can be as simple as stopping to say hello to residents,” Boyer said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean spending more money.”

Krzywicki said that in some ways, the department is seeking to go back in time to where parents would advise children to seek out a policeman if they were in trouble.

“Sometimes parents will try to use police to scare their children,” he said. “But, we want them to trust us and to be a positive presence in the lives of people of all ages.”

Larksville Police Chief John Edwards also believes police should be a positive and accessible part of communities they serve.

“If we see an older person struggling with groceries, we don’t hesitate to give them a ride,” he said. “We want to serve in any way that we can, not simply by arresting criminals.”

Transparency is key

Edwards said the key to successful policing is transparency.

“I reinforce the importance of integrity all the time,” he said. “If you don’t want someone to know that you are doing it, then just don’t do it.”

His department, he said, also uses social media to make the public aware of crimes and police response to incidents as well as to maintain a dialogue with borough residents.

“We want people to know who we are,” he said.

Boyer, who as mayor serves as head of the borough police department, said the police serve as the most visible form of government.

“It’s not often you see a senator or state rep,” he said. “But, most of us see a police officer every day … at the supermarket, at the school, on the street.”

When asked what it is about the police department he is most proud, he doesn’t cite a specific drug arrest or response to a recent fatal accident. Instead, he credits police officers with simply doing their job.

“With all the horrendous happenings lately,” he said, “just putting on their uniform and coming to work shows both bravery and commitment to community.”

Boyer said support for police officers often reflects current national events.

“For example, after 911, firefighters and police were shown a great deal of honor and support,” he said.

Boyer said when a police officer is killed or injured in the line of duty, it’s his practice to post a memorial in their honor to social media.

After the Louisiana and Texas ambush shootings that left eight police officers dead, Boyer said he was posting “in honor and memory” to Facebook and thought, “This is too much. I’m doing this too much.”

Krzywicki looks forward to his department continuing to interface with members of the community, and building a relationship that he believes will increase public safety in the long run.

“Police are always willing to put their lives at risk,” he said. “When others are running out, we run in.”

Reach Geri Gibbons at 570-991-6117 or on Twitter @TLGGibbons.

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©2016 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

Visit The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) at www.timesleader.com

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