Local police trying to 'humanize the badge'
Earlier this month, the Prineville Police Department uploaded a post to its Facebook page titled "Humanizing the Badge."
The agency went on to explain in the social media message that they are trying to encourage youth communication with police officers and said that people will likely see more of the city law enforcement staff in their patrol cars as well as in local neighborhoods and parks.
The emphasis, which agency leaders say has been taking place for more than a year, was prompted by a growing negative view of police nationwide in recent years.
"For years, there was an assumption that law enforcement was doing good work. I think that assumption has kind of drifted away," said Police Chief Dale Cummins. "There has been a little bit of a change in the pattern sometimes of what people think toward law enforcement — not everyone, but there has definitely been enough social media in the last 10 years that a lot of people have become neutral toward law enforcement or even become negative toward law enforcement based on these large (national media) stories."
To combat that trend locally, the Prineville Police Department is making a more pointed effort to highlight the positive interactions between the agency and the citizens it is sworn to protect.
"It's our way of basically giving back to the community and the members to make us more approachable, allow them to come up to us and talk to us about stuff that is not necessarily them reporting a crime," said Police Captain Larry Seymour.
The department is particularly interested in making officers more approachable for local children. Seymour said that most kids don't typically feel comfortable approaching cops unless they are in some sort of trouble.
"We want to put out a different spin that yes we can be approached if we are not in the middle of something," he said. "We can talk to your kids about right or wrong, good or bad, or about being a cop — anything."
The hope, he said, is that the children choose to stay in the community, grow up and support what the police actually do in the community.
Seymour points out that many of the activities they are now highlighting through social media have taken place for years. The agency has participated in local food drives, hosted free carnival days during the Crooked River Roundup, and launched a Random Acts of Kindness campaign this winter where they gave citizens gift cards during contacts for minor violations.
They just haven't historically gone out of their way to talk about it.
"I have officers who give people food when they're hungry," he said. "I had an officer give someone a cellphone out of his own money so he could make calls for his medical needs. We don't publish that stuff and it should be published."
Cummins agrees, saying that it has become more critical than ever before to promote the positive works of the agency.
"Remaining silent allows people to make an assumption one way or the other," he said, "and some of those assumptions are being based off some terrible incident that occurred in Georgia or Florida."
By trumpeting the department's positive activities and focusing on making officers more approachable, agency leaders hope to earn the trust of local residents — trust that will endure even when things go wrong.
"We are never going to walk away from the possibility that we can make mistakes, and when we make mistakes, they are big and they are news because there are high stakes," Cummins said.
But when those mistakes happen, he hopes that the agency has built up enough trust that citizens will give the police the benefit of the doubt.
"That's a lot better platform to start from," he said. "Every contact is an opportunity — even if it is a negative contact (like) a citation. You have an opportunity to build a relationship and to build trust and we must do that now."