Po­lice short­age takes toll on com­mu­nity out­reach

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - Yolanda Jones Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE

De­bra Lovelace car­ries a golf club these days when she ven­tures out for walks in her Den­ver Park neigh­bor­hood in Frayser.

The club is the 30-year res­i­dent’s de­fense against any trou­ble she may en­counter.

“It is se­cluded up here,” Lovelace said. “Our po­lice of­fi­cers that used to be up here all the time aren’t around here like that any­more and I miss that.”

The of­fi­cers are mem­bers of Mem­phis Po­lice Depart­ment’s Com­mu­nity Out­reach Pro­gram or COP, the depart­ment’s com­mu­nity polic­ing pro­gram.

“The COP pro­gram helped us start our neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tion,” said Lovelace, pres­i­dent of the Den­ver Park Neigh­bor­hood As­so­ci­a­tion.

“Feel­ing like May­berry”

Com­mu­nity polic­ing has been a way for MPD to reach out to com­mu­ni­ties and neigh­bor­hoods for the last two decades in the city.

MPD’s first com­mu­nity polic­ing pro­grams were launched back in 1994 with the depart­ment’s Com­mu­nity Ac­tion or CO-ACT units.

The CO-ACT units in­cluded 16 sub­sta­tions in neigh­bor­hoods and was a way for of­fi­cers as­signed there to of­fer com­mu­nity out­reach.

With de­clin­ing staff and older fa­cil­i­ties, the po­lice depart­ment re­vamped the CO-ACT pro­gram in 2011 into a new com­mu­nity polic­ing model that is in use to­day.

The Com­mu­nity Out­reach Pro­gram or COP has of­fi­cers as­signed through­out the city and not to one spe­cific neigh­bor­hood like in the past.

Of­fi­cer Clay­ton Turner, a 12-year MPD vet­eran, has been work­ing with the com­mu­nity polic­ing unit for the last sev­eral years.

In ad­di­tion to work­ing in neigh­bor­hoods, Turner and other COP of­fi­cers also work in more than two dozen Shelby County Schools with the youth crime watch pro­gram.

“I love it,” Turner said about his com­mu­nity polic­ing work. “I started my ca­reer as a teacher, then I be­came a so­cial worker and those skills I learned I get to still use them as a po­lice of­fi­cer.”

Turner was one of the COP of­fi­cers who helped trans­form the Den­ver Park area in Frayser nearly three years ago.

“I’m telling you, when they were in Den­ver Park the of­fi­cers knew all the kids by name and the gangs moved out when the cops moved in,” said Lovelace. “They had us feel­ing like May­berry. We don’t have that po­lice pres­ence any­more which I am sure is all over Mem­phis be­cause of the po­lice short­age.”

“Giv­ing back is part of life”

The com­mu­nity po­lice of­fi­cers like other of­fi­cers on the force are spread thin, but still work to con­nect to the neigh­bor­hood.

Turner, who works out of a North Mem­phis precinct, was busy on a re­cent day this sum­mer putting a box of food to­gether for two women who were short on gro­ceries for the month

“We have a food pantry, we give school clothes and shoes to the kids and I was even the grad­u­a­tion speaker at one of the schools,” Turner said. “I love be­ing part of the com­mu­nity and help­ing res­i­dents be­cause giv­ing back is part of life.”

In the wake of fa­tal po­lice shoot­ings of un­armed black men across the coun­try in­clud­ing in Mem­phis, many think that com­mu­nity polic­ing needs to ex­pand lo­cally and across the coun­try.

“We need to get the COPS pro­gram in all neigh­bor­hoods in Mem­phis. I’m telling you from what I know, it would make a dif­fer­ence be­cause I have seen it,” Lovelace said.

The Depart­ment of Jus­tice has helped com­mu­ni­ties na­tion­wide with fund­ing for com­mu­nity polic­ing. Last month, the DOJ an­nounced $3.6 mil­lion will go to­wards the Com­mu­nity Polic­ing De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram in sev­eral cities.

“Com­mu­nity polic­ing builds trust and mu­tual re­spect be­tween com­mu­ni­ties and law en­force­ment, and that helps us re­duce crime,”said At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions said in a news re­lease. “Over the last 23 years, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice has in­vested more than $14 bil­lion in com­mu­nity polic­ing— and I have no doubt that it has saved lives across Amer­ica.”

YALONDA M. JAMES/THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL

De­bra Lovelace, pres­i­dent of the Den­ver Park Neigh­bor­hood As­so­ci­a­tion, walks with a golf club on Aug. 23 dur­ing a visit to Den­ver Park, lo­cated in Frayser.

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