MARTINSVILLE (WSLS 10) – Police in Martinsville are working to be more involved in the community.
Officers there want input from the people in the community to influence how they enforce the law.
At a symposium Thursday, speaker and former Sheriff Harry Dolan says this community policing concept began after several high profile cases around the country demonstrated a disconnect between the police and the community.
He says Martinsville is one of the jurisdictions taking a lead in finding innovative ways to build that relationship, and the result is a safer place to live.
Dolan says the first step to building a community police relationship is for officers to be accessible.
“Personalize service to meet the needs, make sure the preponderance of the officers are in the neighborhoods around the clock. It’s what the citizens want,” said Dolan.
Martinsville Chief Sean Dunn says he has already begun to use this advice in running his department.
“We’ve got the entire city broken down into 20 small, manageable areas, and each one of our officers is assigned one of those 20 areas. So we want them in those areas as often as possible, just out of the car, just talking to kids, just talking to residents,” said Dunn.
From that added exposure, Dunn says police are learning what issues matter to the public.
In Martinsville, priority number one has been drugs.
“Day one I had citizens tell me hey listen I’ve got this drug complaint, this drug issue next door, this drug issue down the street, I’m scared to sit on my front porch because of drugs,” said Dunn.
Since then, Dunn has made stopping drug-dealing his number one priority.
Just last month, the department put 14 accused dealers behind bars.
Dolan says another important role police are taking on is dealing with mental health.
“We’re asking our officers, who are the only ones left making house calls, to now become almost clinical people dealing with folks in psychological crisis,” said Dolan.
That’s why Dunn says officers with Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT, are increasingly common.
“We’ve got probably about 50, 60 percent of the department trained, by the end of 20-16 I hope to have the entire department trained, at least the entire patrol force trained in Crisis Intervention,” said Dolan.
A department that works with, not for, the community.
Dunn says in addition to regular policing and community interaction, his department has benefited from programs like “Coffee with a Cop” and “Hoops with Cops”, which helps build a bond of trust with people in the City.
He also says there is a CIT training seminar scheduled for officers in his department next month.