Shop with a Cop: Local community policing at its finest
by Terrance Thornton
More than 300 children will experience the delight of the holiday season this December courtesy of 10 law enforcement agencies who combine to host the Shop with a Cop charity program.
The 11th annual Shop with a Cop event, spearheaded locally by the Police Officers of Scottsdale Association, is planned for Saturday, Dec. 21. POSA, along with officers from 10 other police departments including the Paradise Valley Police Department, will donate their time to mentor hundreds of at-risk youth.
Participants of the program are identified through the city of Scottsdale's school resource officers and community outreach organizations throughout the Valley, according to Cynthia Hill, POSA executive director.
“This is true community policing,” she said of the outreach effort in a Nov. 25 e-mail. “Enforcement alone does not defeat criminal activity. It is essential to build bridges to develop trust and become part of the community.”
This year's event begins at 6 a.m. when participants are paired with police officers to learn about each other. Following breakfast, participants are given a lighted escort to Walmart, 15355 Northsight Blvd., where they are able to spend up to $150 on clothes, coats, shoes and a special toy.
“Shop with a Cop helps those children who wouldn't have much of a Christmas without it,” Ms. Hill said. “Children get the opportunity to eat a homemade hot breakfast at Chaparral Suites with a police officer who will be mentoring them and taking them shopping at Walmart.”
Members of law enforcement cherish the experience, Ms. Hill contends.
“The officers receive a lot of satisfaction by watching these children go up and down the Walmart aisles looking for gifts for themselves and their family members. We get a little choked up during their shopping spree,” she said. “They buy blankets for their grandmas, Christmas trees for their families who don't have trees, pots and pans, and one little boy even bought a baby doll for his mother who never got one as a child.”
The need for this program continues to grow, Ms. Hill points out.
“Every year, we have more and more people in need and now more than ever. Many people are just a paycheck away from needing a helping hand,” she explained. “POSA's Shop with a Cop program also includes kids that often are overlooked because they may not be at the bottom of the poverty scale, but their families are often middle class and working two or three jobs trying to make ends meet.”
Funding for the program is generated, in large part, by the city of Scottsdale, Salt River Indian Community, Tempe and Phoenix area residents, businesses and nonprofit grants.
Kevin Albert, Paradise Valley community resource officer, says the program has been a part of community policing for 14 years.
“Since we work so closely together they (POSA) invited us to participate,” he said in a Nov. 25 e-mail.
“We seek children that not only have a financial burden but maybe the loss of a parent or sibling. Maybe a child needs that connection with a law enforcement officer which may end up changing their lives because of that connection.”
It's more than just doing something nice for the holidays -- it's about making connections that make a difference, Officer Albert contends.
“We want to make a difference in every aspect without interfering in people's lives,” he said. “What we do today to help out a kid may help us out in the long run if we only have positive encounters as they grow older. It's a solid investment that is worth our time.”
Meeting the need of the Shop with a Cop program is not a short order, Officer Albert says.
“POSA needs over $60,000 to put on this event for 300 less-fortunate children. Those funds are raised from donations of the community,” he said. “If the community is willing to donate to children they do not even know, why wouldn't we support those supporters by making a difference and making this event a positive outcome for everybody involved?”
Officer Albert says being a member of the local police department means more than just enforcement.
“A lot of people think police are only out there to make arrests and give out citations,” he pointed out. “We want to show the younger generation the good that police do, and hopefully that will be passed on to the older generation.”
To donate to the Shop with a Cop effort in person, go to 7229 E. 1st Ave., No. 203/204, or call 480-947-5988. Donations can also be made online at www.posacares.com
This Is What Happens When Neighborhoods Don't Trust the Police
If you're looking for a case study in what happens when residents stop trusting their local police department, look no further than Wilmington, Delaware.
Last Wednesday afternoon, officers from the Wilmington Police Department and the Delaware State Police were questioning a woman suspected of selling stolen merchandise out of her car when someone opened fired on the group, wounding Delaware State Police Cpl. Richard Deskis. Wilmington police have yet to make an arrest, and one reason why is telling: residents are apparently scared to speak up for fear of retribution.
In a statement released after the shooting, Wilmington Police Chief Christine Dunning said the shooting was "a symptom of decades of socioeconomic decline and moral decay in some of our oldest neighborhoods." While "moral decay" is a hard thing to measure, both the shooting of an officer (not the first one this year) and the department's inability to figure out who pulled the trigger are definitely symptoms of a trust gap between the community and the police.
Wilmington residents have long complained that there aren't enough officers in their neighborhoods, that almost none of them get out of their vehicles and walk through communities, and that response times are poor. An in-depth investigation published last week by the News Journal made plain the high levels of public dissatisfaction with the Wilmington Police Department. The paper also reported that officers were reluctant to go on patrols (which they call "The Pit"), preferring special teams instead; and that some officers are in roles—such as tech support—that should be filled by non-officer employees. Meanwhile, Dunning says one solution is to hire more officers, despite Wilmington already having a police-to-population ration of 4.5-to-1,000, roughly 2.5 times the national average for a city Wilmington's size. (That ratio alone isn't the best way to determine a department's needs, of course, but it's certainly part of the story.)
To add to the city's problems, two residents have now filed a federal lawsuit alleging their constitutional rights were violated by the Wilmington PD's stop-frisk-and-detain policy. Allegedly, the department has a "years long" practice of not only stopping and frisking residents, but illegally detaining them, only to release them without charges. As research has shown, stopping and frisking someone makes them a lot less likely to report crime in the future.
An unwillingness to deploy community policing strategies could help explain why Wilmington is having a record-breaking year for firearm assaults (143 year-to-date, beating 2010's record of 142), and why an individual who opened fire on six cops and a fellow resident is still walking around free.
Walsh wants Boston out of immigrant ID program
Says it nets too many nonviolent offenders
by Michael Levenson
Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh said Tuesday that he wants Boston to pull out of a controversial federal initiative designed to identify illegal immigrants because he believes too many people are detained for nonviolent offenses.
The Secure Communities program allows the Department of Homeland Security to access fingerprints taken by local police, which federal officials can check against federal immigration databases. Those who are in the country illegally can then be deported.
Asked whether he would continue to enforce the program as mayor, Walsh responded: “If we can get around it, I won't.”
“People that are getting pulled over — I don't think that, necessarily, we have to bring in immigration for that,” Walsh told reporters at a Thanksgiving dinner for immigrants at the State House.
The federal government says it prioritizes for deportation those who pose the greatest threat to public safety, based on their criminal histories. But a Globe analysis this year suggested that federal immigration officials are deporting more immigrants in Massachusetts for civil violations than for serious crimes under the program.
Walsh's opposition to Secure Communities represents something of a shift from Mayor Thomas M. Menino's stance. Under Menino, Boston piloted Secure Communities in 2006, and the program was expanded nationally in 2008.
Several hours after Walsh made his remarks, his spokeswoman, Kathryn Norton , acknowledged that the mayor-elect would not have the authority to end Boston's participation in the program, because it is a mandatory federal initiative.
“As we understand it, there's no authority to opt out,” Norton said. “Honestly, it remains to be seen what we're able to do in the role of mayor of Boston.”
Last year, officials expanded the program in Massachusetts, despite strong opposition from Governor Deval Patrick.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency disputed Walsh's assertion that Secure Communities targets illegal immigrants arrested for nonviolent offenses.
Gillian M. Christensen , an agency spokeswoman, said federal officials focus on “priority individuals such as convicted criminals and other public safety threats, as well as those who repeatedly violate our immigration laws.”
“The federal government alone sets these priorities and places detainers on individuals arrested on criminal charges to ensure that dangerous criminal aliens and other priority individuals are not released from prisons and jails into our communities,” she said in a statement.
Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, said that if he cannot end Boston's participation in Secure Communities, he would seek to “soften” its impact by pushing for state legislation that would limit Massachusetts' participation in the program.
Walsh said he supports a bill known as the Trust Act that would allow local police to ignore requests from federal immigration officials to detain illegal immigrants, unless those immigrants have committed major crimes.
“Law enforcement, in particular, needs to be able to build relationships of trust with immigrant communities, and they can't do that with the fear of deportation hanging over the relationship,” Norton said.
Versions of the bill have been enacted recently in California and Connecticut.
Although immigration was not a major focus of Walsh's campaign for mayor, his remarks on Tuesday were not the first time he has spoken out on the issue.
As a state representative in 2006, he voted for a bill that would have granted in-state tuition rates at public colleges to illegal immigrants who graduated from Massachusetts high schools. “He's always been supportive of immigrants, including undocumented immigrants,” said state Senator James B. Eldridge , an Acton Democrat, and lead sponsor of the Trust Act.
Menino's position on Secure Communities has shifted. Initially, he and other city officials strongly defended the program, saying it could help reduce crime in a city that has struggled with gun violence.
Then, in an abrupt reversal in 2011, Menino threatened to withdraw Boston from the program unless federal officials limited their deportation efforts to only those immigrants who committed serious crimes.
“The way it was written does not serve local law enforcement in their efforts for community policing,” Dot Joyce, a Menino spokeswoman, said Tuesday. “While it may be a good program on the federal side, without changes, it does not work locally.”
Boston's acting police commissioner, William Evans, echoed that stance. “Commissioner Evans agrees that to have an effective community policing effort you must have the trust of the people,” said his spokeswoman, Cheryl Fiandaca. “He has been supportive of Mayor Menino in his continued efforts to change the policies around Secure Communities.”
Immigrant activists said they were pleased that Walsh had clearly stated his opposition to Secure Communities.
“The program, unfortunately, is mandatory now,” said Patricia Montes , executive director of Centro Presente, an immigration advocacy group in Somerville. “But he has the power at least to question the program, and to work with the immigrant community to make sure the program is not affecting people who don't have criminal records.”
But Thomas O'Loughlin , the police chief in Milford, said it would be a mistake to withdraw from the program.
His town has been a hotbed of debate over illegal immigration since 2011, when an illegal immigrant who was driving while drunk struck and killed a motorcyclist named Matthew Denice . “It doesn't focus on the person that came here for a better life, who came to here to work hard and was doing tough jobs. Why focus on them?” O'Loughlin said. “If he's a repetitive, serious offender, then that's the person they should focus on. I don't want that person living next to me.”