Fort Collins Police Call Community Engagement Key To Building Trust

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On a Thursday night in early September, kids playing football and families walking through Homestead Park in southern Fort Collins saw something unexpected: a UCHealth Lifeline helicopter sitting in the middle of the field.

The helicopter and surrounding Fort Collins Police Department officers did not respond to a call for help. Instead, families posed for photos inside the helicopter while officers and other first responders showed children around and answered residents’ questions.

The night was one of 12 “Police in the Park” events hosted by the Fort Collins Police at various city parks this summer.

The officers not only played wrestling and tested playground slides with the neighborhood children, but they also got to hear from residents about specific concerns impacting their neighborhoods, the team’s agent said. Neighborhood Law Enforcement, Bryce Youngkin. Going out and cultivating relationships, Youngkin said he even received advice from residents who helped them resolve cases.

Police in the Park was one of several community outreach programs recently run by the Fort Collins Police Department.

Police said the in-person events allow officers to clear up any misconceptions people might have about Fort Collins Police and leave people with a better impression of interactions with officers.

“When people have bad contact (with an officer), it can stick in your head,” said Caleb McDowell, law enforcement team officer.

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Neighborhood Law Enforcement Team Sgt. Justin Gallimore said his team’s goal is to be the bridge between the city’s residents and the police department and to build and maintain relationships of trust through community events like Police in the Park.

“Awareness is the educational element, it’s the relational element, it’s the idea that we can be a part of, interacting with our community in a very intimate way,” said Gallimore. “And really, it serves to build those relationships, to nurture those relationships to move forward.”

Awareness events and programs extend to many sectors of the community. Gallimore said he held a “Courageous Conversation” panel last year with a judge, former Citizen Review Board member Chief Jeff Swoboda and an advocate for victims of 300 student-athletes from State University of Canada. Colorado to talk about justice and due process.

“I think this is something the Fort Collins police have done well,” said Gallimore.

Jonathan Gomez, 12, left, Camden Smith, 10, and Sebastian Gomez inspect the UCHealth LifeLine helicopter during a Police in the Park event at Homestead Park in Fort Collins on Thursday, September 9, 2021.

Fort Collins Police have also partnered with other local organizations to come forward and engage with the community, Gallimore said. At a recent Salvation Army school supplies distribution event, officers from the Mental Health Response Team and the Drone Team came to talk to people as they were picking up bags. back. Participants could also tour the department’s BearCat armored vehicle.

“If you want to bring someone over to the police department, they’re usually going to be interested in what’s here, but they’ll also feel comfortable coming here and have the time, too,” Gallimore said. “So what we really tried to do is find where people are and meet them where they are. “

During social justice protests outside the police building in the summer of 2020, Swoboda and other police officers came out to speak to those gathered. While national conversations tend to lead to local conversions around police departments, Gallimore said their outreach work in the community allows Fort Collins officers to differentiate themselves from some nationwide issues.

“We have the opportunity to paint them in the light that we think is appropriate for Fort Collins,” he said. “… We are different from Loveland. We are different from Greeley. We are different from Longmont, different from Wellington.

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Swoboda has also conducted more targeted outreach with communities that likely have more specific concerns, including recent meetings with Asian business owners after a recent FBI report indicated a nationwide increase in bias-motivated crime. against Asians and a community conversation with homeless people at the Murphy Center following two recent murders of homeless people.

Murphy Center director David Rout said “it was a great turnout,” with at least five to 10 police officers – including Swoboda – and 40 to 50 guests from the Murphy Center. The conversation centered around community fears, but officers also answered various questions about policing.

“(Swoboda) is a very community driven police chief,” Rout said. “… (This) is the kind of thing we want to do more of. I think the police chief wants to do more.

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Rout said guests felt heard and recognized by officers, who stayed over an hour to answer questions.

“I think it goes a long way to have a police department that is willing to engage one-on-one with a part of our community that is often (left out),” Rout said. “… It’s obviously not just words, it’s action.”

Swoboda said that meetings with community members – whether in a park, in a mall, in a neighborhood meeting or in a conversation organized with a specific community – “is where the work is” in the community. police.

“We see ourselves as partners of the community because at the end of the day without the community we fail, we cannot be successful as a police service without the community engaging with us,” Swoboda said. . “… There is no meeting that I am invited to that I will not go to.” “

Fostering relationships is essential for building trust and it should be done outside of crisis situations, Gallimore said, which is why the department has focused on community outreach.

“If you wait until a disaster or a crisis occurs to start doing it, then I think you are losing confidence or you haven’t built the confidence that you could have had.”

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Members of the Fort Collins Police Department Neighborhood Engagement Team and members of UCHealth LifeLine meet with community members during the Police in the Park event at Homestead Park in Fort Collins on Thursday, September 9, 2021 .

How to Meet Fort Collins Police

Fort Collins Police Officers may be invited to meetings, make presentations, make tours, or meet with groups. To request a police officer or other law enforcement employee to contact you, complete the form online at www.fcgov.com/police/connect.

Note: This form is not used to report a crime. To report a crime, dial 911 or, if it is not an emergency, dial 970-419-FCPD.

Upcoming Fort Collins Police Events

Coffee with a cop

  • What: Have a cup of coffee (or tea or hot chocolate) and have your questions answered by a Fort Collins police officer.
  • When: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, October 7
  • Where: Starbucks at Scotch Pines, 2601 S. Lemay Ave., Suite 130 (the corner of Drake Road and Lemay Ave.)

Sady Swanson covers public safety, criminal justice, Larimer County government and more in northern Colorado. You can send him your story ideas at sswanson@coloradoan.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support his work and that of other Colorado journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.


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