Big Community Policing on a Small Island

This blog post is part of a series highlighting best practices in community policing by police departments nationwide as part of IACP’s Community Policing: The Next Generation project. The project showcases modern, innovative, and cost-effective solutions to crime problems and public safety issues through collaboration and partnerships between law enforcement and community stakeholders in order to adapt community policing efforts. The project is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

The Penobscot Nation Reservation sits on an island of roughly 7.5 square miles, in the middle of a river, in the center of the state of Maine. It is not a big island, but one that is protected by a department led by an innovative and future-minded police chief. Maine, known for its beautiful coastline and delicious lobsters, is not a densely populated state and one might not expect so much forward thinking coming from those living in a state known as the Vacationland.

Chief Robert Bryant, chief of police for the Penobscot Nation Police Department since 2007, testified at sessions of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and speaks of building a foundation of trust in order to enhance police legitimacy for his citizens. His citizens, members of the Penobscot Nation tribe, are not your average demographic, but Bryant’s methods of community policing are no different than what needs to be done around the United States.

One difference Bryant does face as chief of police of a tribal nation is that he and his officers must constantly be aware of two sets of laws. Chief Bryant must make sure that his people are treated fairly when it comes to dealing with Maine’s laws, as well of those of the Penobscot Nation.

Chief Bryant is not that different from other law enforcement executives around the country. His department is hoping to incorporate more cultural awareness training, develop a better understanding of the community’s feelings and attitudes toward law enforcement, seek community and police officer buy-in, as well as collaborate more with other public agencies serving the citizens of that island.

For the past seven years the police department has sponsored and coordinated a race in the community, raising money to provide healthy snacks for those attending the youth program at the community center. In addition, the department raises awareness of the long history of running with the tribe and how it offers a healthy alternative and lifestyle choice. The department also purchases uniforms for the youth, assists them at practices, and speaks to them on drug prevention, anti-bullying, and self-esteem building.

Another successful community policing strategy has been the creation of the Wabanaki Law Enforcement Group. This working group consist of law enforcement executives from the five tribes in Maine and meets quarterly to discuss issues the tribes face and also how the tribes can enhance one another’s agencies. Issues ranging from drug abuse, mutual aid, relationships between the tribes, state government, and other law enforcement and public safety issues are regularly topics of discussion. A greater understanding of the different communities that the tribal law enforcement departments serve helps to increase the effectiveness of these agencies.

Chief Bryant is working hard to create a foundation of trust and legitimacy for his community. On that island of only roughly 7.5 square miles, there is a police department with leadership that will continually strive to serve its people in the best way it knows how.

The Penobscot Tribal Police Department is 1 of 10 agencies that will be featured in IACP’s upcoming publication on promising practices in tribal community policing, which is due out later this year. As a part of this project, Chief Robert Bryant presented a webinar on the importance of incorporating tribal culture into police operations. The webinar recording and more information about the project can be found on the IACP Tribal Community Policing page.

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