In support of your friendly neighborhood police officer

I’m about to say something that may be unpopular, or even come across as naïve.

I’m cool with the police. I’m cool with the Greensboro Police Department at least.

I’m sure there are people out there who have had bad experiences with police officers or the larger department.

Officers are human beings, and the police department, just like any entity made up of human beings, is going to have people who make mistakes. There are also going to be jerks who are terrible at their job. Hasn’t everyone worked with at least one person who was either an awful person or just inept?

When a police officer does something wrong it’s a bigger deal because police officers are in a position of power over civilians. They are armed with guns, dogs, tasers, and pepper spray, and they get to make the call on how to use deadly force.

When a police officer approaches you as an authoritative and mysterious stranger it’s disarming. I had a police officer on a bike pull me over once on Elm Street during First Friday. He abrasively and wrongfully accused me over hiding an open wine bottle in my car before proceeding to search my vehicle. I was dead sober, and there was no wine bottle, so within five minutes I was on my way. Did I feel confused and indignant at first? Absolutely!

Over the past few months I have come to see things in a different light. One of the first things I did as a reporter for YES! Weekly was to go on a civilian ride-along with a local officer. I was surprised that most our time was spent responding to domestic community issues. When a local woman called in reference to a heated argument with her brother over family finances, officers calmly mediated the situation and even helped the two write a grocery list together.

During the ride along we also responded to a couple of false alarms, and checked in on a nearby homeless camp. I was impressed by the level of respect used by my officer during these non-confrontational interactions. She already knew some of the residents by name, and even asked if they needed anything.

I have also been impressed by the department’s community outreach initiatives. The department has been bringing its mobile command center to different neighborhoods in order to introduce officers to local residents. Officers also encourage people to call the police for community issues ranging from suspicious activity to ongoing public safety needs.

Currently the department is proposing to redraw districts and divisions around neighborhoods. The District Geography Alignment and Implementation of Neighborhood Oriented Policing (NOP) seek to reduce the number of minutes for a response time to seven, and improve community engagement. Districts would be adjusted to prevent splitting up neighborhoods with zones within each distract drawn around individual neighborhoods. Each zone would have a lieutenant assigned to it.

I don’t want to risk seeing the world through rosy, “Leave it to Beaver” glasses, but it’s incredibly comforting to imagine a community in which the local officer knows everyone in the neighborhood, and everyone knows and feels comfortable around the officer. It’s a nostalgic small town approach to public safety.

I can’t help but to envision a different scenario in which I would have known the officer who stopped me about the suspected open container:

“Excuse me, Ms. Kenerly.” “Hi Officer John Doe. How are you?” “Fine. I’m sorry to stop you but I’m afraid I just saw something that looked like a wine bottle hiding in your console.”

“Hmmm. That’s odd. I don’t have any wine on me tonight. Here, you can see for yourself.”

“Alright. I’m sorry to bother you, Whitney. Have a good night.”

If I had known the officer, I might have had a better time understanding that he was just doing his job. If he had known me, maybe he might have been a bit friendlier and more apologetic about stopping me.

Maybe it’s unrealistic to try and transform Greensboro into Mayberry, but I think the Greensboro Police Department is moving in the right direction. If I’ve lost track of my speed while driving and I suddenly see a patrol car I’m always going to be on edge. No one likes getting in trouble, but deep down we are all still glad that someone is there to pursue those who break the laws – from misdemeanors to felonies.

Maybe there are some people who would never view a police officer as a friendly neighborhood lieutenant. You don’t have to like the police, but when their efforts are indicative of a desire to truly serve and protect I just don’t think it’s helpful to view them as the enemy. !