Atlantic City is putting police back in the Police Athletic League and a substation into one of the more troubled neighborhoods as part of a vast outreach planned to improve relations between the department and the community.
Police will sit down with residents Friday morning in the city’s Westside for the first “Coffee with Cops.” It is one of several events meant to foster a partnership between the Police Department and residents. A version for students is “Pizza with Police.”
“These are things to gain the trust and a rapport with the community,” Police Chief Henry White said. “We need the community in order to prevent crime and also to help solve crime after it’s occurred.”
In addition to the events, a long-discussed police substation will open in Stanley Holmes Village next month, at Kentucky and Adriatic avenues, White said. Officers on varying shifts will take over the former manager’s officer after the complex’s own security moves uptown.
The department-wide approach to community policing is being spearheaded by the five-officer Community Relations Unit, headed by Sgt. Monica McMenamin.
As officers went around with fliers announcing the Coffee with Cops, one resident noted, “Usually, when you guys are here, it’s not good,” McMenamin said.
“We’re trying to change that,” she told him.
Officers Bob Berg, David Hadley, Richard Hood and Kiyia Harris round out the Community Relations Unit, which will have an office in the PAL building.
“We’re excited to have the police more involved with the PAL,” Executive Director Michael Bailey said.
Several officers want to sponsor kids to attend the PAL who can’t afford it, along with mentoring them, McMenamin said.
Hadley — who used to head the PAL — said he wants to sponsor four or five children, and will challenge his co-workers to do the same.
“You’re not going to get locked up,” Lamont Banks, 16, jokingly yelled as fellow 10th-grader Lamar Bruckler pushed Harris on a newly finished wooden go-cart the kids built from leftover deck wood of Recreation Department worker George Brown.
The teens said it was good to have the officers returning to the PAL.
“They get to know each other as people,” Bailey said.
Instead of fearing an officer, he said, a kid can point and say, “No, that’s Officer Harris. She’s my friend.”
The department hoped to have its Junior Police Academy held in the PAL building this summer, but the regularly planned program will already fill the area, so they are looking for somewhere else to hold the two, two-week sessions set to tentatively begin June 7.
Principals at the city’s eight elementary schools will be recruited to choose fifth-graders that would likely do well in the program. Then, they will fill out applications, including writing an essay about why they want to join the academy.
Sitting down to lunch together earlier Thursday, the Community Relations Unit — minus Berg, who was working security for the mayor — ran off a list of upcoming events they hope to start, including track, a reading program and a baseball clinic hosted by Deputy Chief James Pasquale, who manages the Sand Sharks youth baseball team.
Hadley also said they are hoping to restart police trading cards, which were popular years ago. He still has a copy of his from about 20 years ago, which shows in his bio he had been on the force just 4½ years at the time.
“It’s not work for me,” he said of his new assignment, which brings him back to the PAL where he worked for years. “It’s different when it’s a passion.”
The community policing will be part of everyone’s work, White said. And, while the manpower will not allow for walking patrols, officers will be encouraged to park and walk on their beats.
The city is partnering with the Coalition for a Safe Community and the Atlantic City/Pleasantville Municipal Planning Board, which works to solve city problems from various angles.
“It’s not just these programs we’re doing with the young, it’s our law enforcement agency partnering with the community and problem-solving,” White said. “The more trust the community has in us, the more confident they will be to share information and help us reduce crime in their neighborhoods.”
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