Park, Walk and Talk.

The Heart of Community Policing.

February 16, 2016

What would happen if your neighbors got together and actually started watching out for each other? What if your police department came into your neighborhood and stopped by just to say hello and attempted to get to know you? What if the officers stopped at the local park to play a game of basketball with the neighborhood kids between calls for service; just because? Maybe the answers would surprise you. Maybe the answers will solve a problem. Or maybe what would happen is communities would start to connect and residents would feel a sense of belonging and ownership. When that happens the entire character of a community changes for the better and trust between police and residents begins to rise. This is when we can start to solve problems and truly have a positive impact.

 This idea is at the heart of our department’s newest community policing program known as Park, Walk and Talk. It is based on the not so new idea of police officers walking their beats, talking with residents and getting to know the people in the neighborhoods they patrol. We are already seeing some amazing things happen. I point to mid-January when some of our detectives and officers working a proactive enforcement detail to round up some wanted repeat felons noticed a group of three boys playing basketball at Joe Lee Smith Park. Detective Ben Erskine stopped to talk with the boys when three other officers arrived. The encounter then turned into a 5-6 minute game of three on three basketball with Detective Erskine, Detective Anthony Colombo and Officer George Menendez. The game was captured on Officer Menendez’s bodycam which triggered a flood of positive attention after it was posted on the department’s Facebook page. What followed was a special invitation by the Orlando Magic to attend a game as a VIP guest. The boys and the officers were able to meet the players, take photos courtside and watch an NBA game. The long term impact of that one encounter may never be known, but we hope it was a positive experience for the boys, one they can share with their friends and perhaps make a positive difference in the choices they make that will impact their future for the better. 

 As a near 30-year veteran of law enforcement I know the impact of positive community policing programs. We are committed to this philosophy and believe that investing in our community this way will yield long term success. As Detective Erskine recently commented about his experience, “You have no idea what community feels like until you get out and love what you protect.” I could not agree more. --Chief Mike Cantaloupe