In 2002, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer had a problem on his hands with gangs in the Southwest District. Dyer convened with one of his most respected and trusted officers, Greg Garner, and they set out to make a difference in the lives of the youth and the residents in their jurisdiction. Dyer appointed Garner as Captain of the District.
Garner believes in bonding with the communities he serves, rather than just “showing up and making arrests.” He handpicked five officers, one of which was Oliver Baines. Baines grew up as a young black man in Los Angeles who got pulled over repeatedly going to and from work and school for… being black.
After reaching out to the community and local clergy, they decided that the best way to do that would be to hold block parties in the most troubled communities. At first residents were hesitant to join in the festivities but soon found themselves enjoying the company of the cops–along with the barbecues and the music.
There was a fatal shooting in 2006 when the Southwest District was run by a gang that called themselves Dog Pound. Before their community outreach, no one would have said a word. But now that they knew and trusted the police, the community turned into tipsters and a gang member was arrested for the killing. After several more block parties in the neighborhood they were able to disband the gang.
“We didn’t have protests in Fresno last August, and September and October. And that’s not by accident,” said Mayor Ashley Swearengin. “It’s because there has been such consistent and constant work between law enforcement and the community.”
The Fresno Police have experienced so much success with this project that they have been able to sustain it without any federal grant money for the past ten years. They partner with community and church groups and organizations like YouthBuild. They work within the United States and around the globe providing programs to low income youth so that they can “learn construction skills to help build affordable housing and other community assets such as community centers and schools.”
“When you respect and empower the young people, they want to build a bridge,” said YouthBuild USA founder Dorothy Stoneman. “It makes them want to improve the community, and that always includes police-community relations.”
Imagine that. Treating people with dignity, respect and opportunity encourages growth, community-building and good behavior. What an exciting and novel concept.
Featured Image from Washington Post.