Engaging with the Community through Friday Night Lights and More

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 and Task Force on 21st Century Policing projects. The projects showcase innovative and effective solutions to building trust and creating opportunities to collaborate with community stakeholders to increase public safety. These projects are funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Menlo Park, California, Police Department is a recipient of the 2016 IACP/Cisco Community Policing Award

Menlo Park

The City of Menlo Park, California is considered a culturally and economically diverse cities. With that diversity, there can sometimes be challenges and issues for the police department and the community.  To help address these issues and foster change, the Menlo Park Police Department (MPPD) decided it needed to earn the trust of its community members and to connect more closely with those living and working in the community. The department formed a Community Advisory Group, comprised of residents and business owners from throughout the city, to provide open lines of communication and to identify crime and community issues affecting the area. Since its inception in 2013, the Advisory Group has developed a number of comprehensive and coordinated plans to help neighborhoods with the most need.

The Community Advisory Group and the Menlo Park Police Department have implemented:

  • Strategic Traffic Plan. This plan increased traffic enforcement locations around all schools in the community and created a program that invited traffic officers into schools at the beginning of each school year to educate students and parents on bicycle and traffic safety.
  • Block Captains for Neighborhood Watch. Law enforcement officers took the lead and helped develop and train community members interested in participating in Neighborhood Watch programs. In a two-year period, the neighborhood gained 10 new block captains.
  • Improved Community Communication. The MPPD now uses numerous social media platforms to disseminate information to the public both socially and during emergencies. In addition to Blackboard Connect and Nixle, the MPPD now regularly utilizes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Nextdoor.
  • Citizen’s Academy. The MPPD created a Citizen’s Academy to ensure that residents understood the community policing philosophy. Residents attended the sessions one night per week for nine weeks. They learned how local government works, how services are provided and how everyone, including the community, needs to work together to make the city a better and safer place to live. The program’s success led to the development of a Youth Academy that educates teens in local government processes and police operations.

Menlo parkIn addition to these programs, the department also hosts Friday Night Lights once per month during football season by featuring a rotating patrol team at different locations throughout the city. Friday Night Lights allows each officer to engage with the younger generation in the community in a fun tailgate-like atmosphere where they autograph team photos, share in food and snacks, and receive department memorabilia.

Because of the creative and unique steps the Menlo Park Police Department is taking, the citizens are responding by being more engaged in their community. Police staff were also more enthusiastic and open to engage with the city’s residents and business community. Together, the police department and the community are able to work together to foster partnerships and problem solve.

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