In the first of our #SafetyPartners blog series, Tina Shepard, director of community initiatives for ONE Neighborhood Builders, shares her experience helping build relationships between police and community in the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence, RI.
LISC works to reduce crime in low-income places by helping forge partnerships between police, community developers and researchers. When these entities, in collaboration with residents, pool their information, strategy and talent, neighborhoods begin to experience real drops in crime. Over the coming weeks, we will feature blogs from a community developer, a police officer and a researcher, each part of comprehensive safety efforts in the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence. What follows are their reflections on the challenges they face, and the solutions they see making a difference in their community.
Last year was a tense one for communities of color and police departments across the country. High profile police-involved shootings grabbed the national spotlight, coupled with the murders of police, including the July evening in Dallas when five officers were shot during a demonstration. Every week seemed to bring a new tragedy. In the wake of this violence, I found myself in a precarious place, one that tested my faith about community policing and whether or not residents and police could truly come together as a team.
As director of community initiatives at ONE Neighborhood Builders, a community development corporation in the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence, I have spent the last two years working with the police department, residents, community partners and others, trying to build and enhance relationships between the police and residents. The end goal is to create a safer, healthier, more cohesive neighborhood.
My position is not easy. There are community members who do not support my work with the police-- some will not even sit at the table with me because of my relationship with law enforcement. On the other hand, some police officers do not get what I do, or what I am trying to do. I have often felt caught in the middle. My job is to work bridging the gap between police officers and residents--a gap that is often filled with mistrust, judgement, frustration, and fear.
Last fall, with LISC’s support, I attended a conference on “problem-oriented policing” in Tempe, AZ, where I had an experience that made my work—or at least my perspective on it—a little easier. For the first time, I was able to have conversations with Providence police officers that were not just about crime occurrences or data or meetings, but about our personal sides. However uncomfortable the conversations were, they were honest.
I was able to see the humanness of these officers--something many community members do not get to see. I got to see their passion for their jobs, the reasons they chose their professions and how they, too, are trying to navigate a system that, quite frankly, needs many changes.
A few days after returning home from the meeting, I received a call from one of our partners. He wanted to let me know that he had seen one of our community police officers, Mitch Guerra, passing out candy from his patrol car on Halloween. He knew which officer it was from the photos we are constantly posting on social media and because this officer is a regular presence at neighborhood events. I was so excited that I sent an email to the Chief of Police to let him know that one of his officers was “caught” doing something above and beyond, something that was not facilitated by me or a resident leader. Something he chose to do on his own.
I woke up the next day to find an email from Officer Guerra: “Thank you for taking the time to share the feedback you received by someone in the community. It is definitely heartwarming to see people are recognizing what we are all trying to accomplish with building a better relationship between police and our residents. You're an inspiration by taking on such a difficult task as a leader in the community to bridge the gap. I couldn't be happier to be a part of your team and look forward to what the future holds for all of us.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tina Shepard, Director of Community Initiatives for ONE Neighborhood Builders
Tina has worked in many different capacities within the Providence community, including serving as Scholarship Coordinator/ Community Partner Manager at Rhode Islanders Sponsoring Education and as Director of Out of School Time at John Hope Settlement House. Tina was also the co-founder and director of Project Ujima and has served as a board member for Sojourner House, Co-Chair of the RI Community Planning Group for HIV prevention, and adult coordinator for Inner Circle, the youth voice of the RI Community Planning Group.
More from our #SafetyPartners series:
The What, Why and How of Community Policing: An Officer’s View
by Officer Tracie Miller
When Police Are Problem Solvers
by Sean Varano