Instead of issuing tickets, Summit County sheriff’s deputies waited at stop signs with candy to enforce seat belt violations.
They stopped people at random. If everyone had their seat belts on, they got rewarded with Smarties.
But people not wearing seat belts were reminded of the law and sent off with a more fitting prize, a Dum Dums sucker.
Sgt. Michael Walsh said it’s one of many programs the department does in line with community policing, which he said is “being a part of your community instead of just working for your community.”
“That’s how your department becomes part of your community,” Walsh said. “We’re just a giant quilt and you’re just one piece in the quilt.”
Walsh has been the head of the department’s community policing unit for 10 years. The unit has five school resource officers and three D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officers, including himself, although deputies from throughout the department become involved.
Community policing is not one-size-fits-all, and Walsh said their programs are always adapted to face new problems as policing changes.
Seniors, for example, are checked on twice a month in the department’s senior watch program. They also can be part of the department’s senior coalition, where Walsh said they’ll hold events for seniors, bring in speakers on topics they’re interested in, and educate them on scams, a crime seniors are more prone to face.
He said building that relationship is key, because without it, many seniors will not report a crime when it happens to them.
In the fight against drug addiction, the sheriff’s office has a quick-response team, which sends a deputy, paramedic and mental health counselor to the homes of people who overdose.
Rather than drive them to jail, Walsh said they’re often driving people with drug addictions to get the help they need.
He said as people in recovery start to trust them, they refer more drug users to him, and they can connect those people with help.
“It’s just the way policing is changing,” Walsh said. “You can’t arrest your way out of the drug problem.”
In more than 30 neighborhood watches, Walsh said, they teach residents to take an active role in policing their own neighborhoods.
Walsh said they meet with each neighborhood’s coordinator and each street captain, teaching them about everything from stopping burglaries to brand-new things like drone law.
Walsh also does neighborhood evaluations, during which he will take photos of houses and show residents strengths and weaknesses.
The department also encourages each neighborhood to throw events like block parties or movie screenings, not only so deputies can meet residents, but so neighbors can meet and get to know each other.
“People will care about other people if you get them to know each other,” Walsh said, adding that people are more likely to report crimes if they know their neighbors too.
In Barberton, public information officer Marty Eberhart said community policing is every officer’s job.
“In reality, police work now is community policing,” Eberhart said. “You have to incorporate it into your everyday because you’re building relationships.”
He said each Barberton officer is encouraged to stop and meet with residents, whether it’s kids in the neighborhood or restaurants around town, to have conversations with people, “letting them see cops are humans just like everybody else,” Eberhart said.
Those relationships also help information go back and forth between police and the community. As a school resource officer at Barberton High School, Eberhart said, those relationships are key.
Eberhart said kids have come to him with information they didn’t feel comfortable telling their teacher or guidance counselor. In many cases, he also knows the parents of many of the kids.
Being born in Barberton, and graduating from the high school he now works in, Eberhart said he has a connection with the community.
“Every day cops need to be talking to people and building those relationships, and that’s how you build the trust,” Eberhart said.
Cuyahoga Falls Police Chief Jack Davis said the department used to have a community policing unit but lost it as the department shrank over the years.
He said all officers are tasked with problem solving and making community connections. He prefers to have each person in the department working on community policing, not just one unit.
“I kind of hated when it was a unit, because I think it should be everybody’s job,” Davis said.
He said the department has its own quick-response team, events and programs for the community, but a lot of community policing is officers being outside of their car and being approachable.
Every contact between a citizen or officer can be what shapes a resident’s views of law enforcement, Davis said. Officers are trained to try to make those interactions positive.
“If it’s the culture of your police department and it’s what is expected and is seen, then that’s what the officers do,” Davis said.
He said residents showing up at police events — or sending food to the station — speaks to how they’re seen in the community. But Davis said it’s important for him to be out in the community himself, listening to residents to get both positive and negative feedback.
He said the department does its best to hire officers who want to be part of the community and take the time to listen with residents.
“When you’re here and you’re working, you become part of this community,” Davis said. “You talk to people right, you treat people right. And that’s why 90% of what people want. They want you to listen for a little bit.”
Reach Akron Beacon Journal reporter Sean McDonnell at email@example.com or 330-996-3186.
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