KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — They’re not reinventing the wheel in Kalamazoo when it comes to foot patrols. It’s still as simple as parking the patrol car and walking the beat.
Sgt. John Resseguie and Officer Aaron Jackson walking the 1300 block of Washington Avenue, the pair are fighting crime with an old approach, by getting to know the neighbors and their problems.
They’re also getting neighbors to know them through casual conversation instead of during a crisis.
The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety’s foot patrol program started in 2014. It’s one of Chief Jeff Hadley’s ideas to improve community relations, within 15 months officers had knocked on every door in the city.
Once officers were done knocking on those doors, they started all over again.
“It shouldn’t have a beginning and an end, in terms of we’re going to do it for a month and see how it works and it tends to dissipate over time,” Hadley said.
Commitment to the idea of foot patrols and an understanding of what can be accomplish are just a few of the reason Kalamazoo’s program caught the attention of the Police Foundation — a national group that comes up with ways to improve law enforcement.
The foundation studied five foot patrol programs in cities across the country, including Cambridge, Massachusetts; New Haven, Connecticut; Evanston, Illinois and Portland, Oregon.
The group called Kalamazoo’s version innovative. Foot patrols are part of the larger effort to build trust between officers and the community.
Hadley says in the beginning, the program was met with skepticism from some residents. But once officers explained why they were knocking on their door, much of that skepticism went away.
And the reaction from the community did the same things for officers who may have been leery of the program early on.
“That’s the value,” Hadley said. “When you can kind of get at some of your more hardened officers where they start kind of opening up their eyes and going wow, there’s good people out here. They are like me. They shook my hand, they patted me on the back, and they told me they appreciate me. That is where you really start seeing the value in it because they’ll continue to do it.”
As is the case with similar community relations building programs law enforcement have tried, the results of the foot patrols may only be measured by the trust the community has in the police department when a bigger problem comes along.
“You need that to build upon and rely on when things come up that are sticky, controversial,” Hadley said.
Vanguard Church Pastor Esteven Juarez lives on Washington Avenue. He knows the neighborhood temperament, and it isn’t always police friendly. But he says attitudes are changing, one step at a time.
“Suspicion’s one of those things you’ll find in the urban areas, of course,” Juarez said. “But I think as they continue to do it, the better it becomes.”