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By walking the beat, Kalamazoo officers nurture genuine relationships with community

Jeremy Brooks

Have you ever seen an old movie where police officers are “walking the beat” in a neighborhood? It turns out foot patrols are more than just a movie trope. They can actually be a way for police and public safety officers to build closer ties with the people they serve and protect.

A recent study by the Police Foundation examines that tradition of foot patrols, and how it’s working in four communities, including Kalamazoo.

Jeff Hadley, chief of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, joined Stateside today.

The report from the Police Foundation singles out Hadley’s department as taking “a particularly innovative approach to build trust and enhance its relationship with the community.”

Back in March 2014, the department launched its initiative by sending officers to knock on every single door in the city. Hadley said that’s approximately 15,000 doors.

“I mean, it was ambitious… I will qualify that by saying not everybody answered the door or were home at the time we knocked on the door, but we figured we’d reached a good number of our citizens,” he said.

The department accomplished the task in 15 months’ time. Hadley said the experience was “eye-opening” for both the community and its officers.

"We have to humanize each other. And you can’t do that on Facebook. You can’t do that in a car. You have to do it connecting with people in a real way."

“[Officers] really realized there’s so many good people out here, in our community… that support them, that need them, that want them. And, you know, that really came through in their discussions with the citizens during those contacts,” he said.

This type of on-the-ground interaction with community members wasn’t meant to be a one-time experience.

“It really needs to be part of the everyday toolbox for any officer in any community,” Hadley said. “So it should become natural to them, right? I’m going to get in my squad car, I’m going to go to my district, I’m going to answer my calls for service – because that’s part of what we do – but in my free time…I’m going to get out of my car, I’m going to connect with people.”

He said departments should be “intentional about it” until walking the beat and connecting with community members becomes “part of the DNA of the organization.”

“We have to humanize each other,” Hadley said. “And you can’t do that on Facebook. You can’t do that in a car. You have to do it connecting with people in a real way and it has to be authentic and genuine… that’s what connects people and community together is their trust in you, their belief in you and their support of you. And this is just one way to do that from a grassroots organizational perspective.”

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