By Mike Tarter
Former Corrales Police Chief
What is Community Policing?
That is the question, and the answers will determine what your community is made up of, and what your police department is made up of.
You first must identify who is in your community. The man who wrote the first book on this was Robert Trojanowicz, and he came up with six categories: the police, the business, citizens, the media, other government agencies and the elected officials.
I met Dr. Trojanowicz at a community policing conference and found out from him that the experiment in policing we did on the west side of Albuquerque helped contribute to his book. He used information from a grant that was awarded to APD in 1976 and ran until 1980. As a police officer it was the hardest job I have ever loved to do and did not realize it until it was disbanded. (That is another story, why that happened.)
I never thought I would be involved in something like that again until I retired and came out to Corrales.
In both experiences, the police did not trust the elected officials and the citizens, it was the same feeling for the citizens and the elected officials in trusting the police. It took several years to build that trust between everyone, but once it was done you could not stop the commitment to make your area of responsibility the safest, and get the quality of life that everyone wanted.
Once you have that commitment from all concerned, you start with small problems to give everyone the ability to succeed and see their successes as partners in solving community problems. (The how-to of problem solving is another story as well.)
Most problems do not involve using all six groups at once, and you set achievable goals. Most problems are not eliminated but can be greatly reduced whether it is a crime problem or a quality of life issue. I think the title of “community policing” was chosen because usually the first call you make is to the police. At the end of my Corrales and (SCCOPE) Sandoval Community Oriented Policing Effort experience (which also is another story) we in leadership positions renamed it “Results Organized Government,” because everyone wanted results and all government agencies from the New Mexico United States Attorneys Office down to state and county agencies were involved in one way or another when we needed to partner with other police or non-police government agencies to solve problems.
That being said, both police agencies I worked for had one thing in common: the personal contact with everyone in those six categories to find out what their issues were.
This has been true since policing was created in the 1800s until today.
The one key difference during that time period was the method used to make that contact, identify the problem and then get to work reducing it or stopping it. From the late 1970s in APD to the early 1990s in Corrales and now in 2020, the methods have been different but the results were the same. Technology has played a very big part in what community policing has been over the last 20 years.
When implementing community policing, my most successful method came from the Bible at James 1:9 “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry”
When I started writing this guest commentary at the editor’s request, I was going to talk about each period of time I was involved with community policing, the people I worked with, friendships made in the communities, some of the projects, the grants and the awards.
Instead I think there is something more important to discuss. That is, what is community policing during a pandemic?
All of those gatherings we went to, such as Coffee with a Cop, DARE, Neighborhood Watch, Crime Prevention, Village Council meetings, and on and on, are gone for now.
Have you noticed wearing the mask has made you invisible? I go to the Post Office on a regular basis and almost always run into someone I know. Now we just walk by each other not knowing it, or too afraid to say “hi.” The first time I walked into a bank wearing the mask, my first thought was “I hope they do not think I am robbing them.”
We have become so protective of our six-foot distance. I have spent a life time watching people, and this pandemic is changing the way we act when coming into contact with people.
We have the NextDoor app, which the police, fire and Village government have been using and that has been helpful. Our small group Bible study has been using the Zoom app to meet with each other and our church is on every app to view the services and keep in touch.
At this point, I would ask all of you to think about this issue and see if we can come up with a way to stay informed on policing and quality of life issues. I like being the safest community and county in New Mexico and want to keep the contact going both ways.
It sure would be nice to have a meeting in person with everyone like in the past, but if that is not possible then let’s come up with ways to deal with this.
Let’s solve this problem like we have solved problems in the past. Crime may be down because of the virus, but our quality of life is not doing very good. You can send your ideas to me or better yet to the Corrales Police Department.
I served in the Marine Corps, and when we had a problem we were told to “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome!” We can become an example for other communities in finding a way to keep the doors open to our Village government regarding their needs and ours even if we cannot do so in person. When you see our Village employees, say “hello,” wave or give them a thumbs up. They are doing a difficult job during this shutdown.