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'Cool cop' skates through community police work

One police officer in Washington proves he is one 'cool cop' by skateboarding on the job, highlighting a model for community policing that is showing results.

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    Handler Jorge Garcia-Bengochea holds Honor, a miniature therapy horse from Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses, while he walks with Patrolman Savvas Roumeliotis from the Middletown New Jersey Police Department in New York City, March 16. In New York and elsewhere, police departments are working to develop more effective community police methods.
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Shredding with skateboarders at the local skatepark isn't part of a typical police officer's job description, but for Craig Hanaumi, an officer in a suburb of Seattle, the skateboarding gig has become an important tool in community police work.

Officer Hanaumi became the skateboarding face of Bellevue's community policing effort in 2010, after a routine request to stop trespassing became a demonstration of the officer's skills with wheels, Jillian Raftery reported for KIRO Radio. He eventually told the skaters, who were filming tricks in a back parking lot, they needed to leave, but the encounter, captured on video, gave Hanuami the nickname "cool cop." The encounter convinced him such interactions could become a way to foster better relationships between local teens and police.

The need for community policing programs have reached a new level of urgency in recent months, as rifts between minority communities and the officers who police them have exploded on the national stage. High-profile shootings of young, minority residents by police officers in cities across the country have fractured public trust in law enforcement. Police departments across the country are increasingly looking to this kind of positive engagement between officers and young people in the communities they serve as a means to boost trust on both sides of the equation.

The key to effective community policing, in Washington and elsewhere, is empathy, Lenora Fulani, the director of the New York City-based “Operation Conversation: Cops & Kids,” told The Christian Science Monitor's Harry Bruinius last summer. Her program helps inner-city police rebuild trust lost after a rough year for police relations.

She sponsors public talks between veteran officers and local teens, guiding them through conversations designed to increase understanding and build trust. The damaged trust between communities and the police charged with protecting them takes a toll on both sides.

Officer Joe Fratto, a three-year veteran of the high-crime beat in New York City, described during one talk the mental strain for officers working in a low-trust environment. “They’ve been in so many situations where they didn’t get the respect back that they expected, or somebody cursed them out for no reason, or they were filmed for no reason, for doing something that was legitimate and right," Mr. Fratto said. "So, their personality changes, where, ‘OK, now it’s 'us versus them.' "

Skateboarding is not the solution for every department or city, but the Bellevue officer's idea of demonstrating understanding while he policed highlights a strategy for developing trust. "I believe there is no way out of the trap of police-community hostility without the development of both sides,” Ms. Fulani told the Monitor.

Bellevue has invested heavily in that kind of development. The department devotes two full-time officers to community policing, but also maintains a culture of encouraging officers to spend time between calls with community members. The department offers annual "community academies," free workshops that invite the public to learn about the officers and how they work and officers regularly share pizza with youth from the Boys and Girls Club regularly.

Many of the impacts of such community police work are intangible, but others have helped directly in crime-fighting. Hanaumi spent some time working with a teen who was at-risk for gang involvement, and the teenager later came to him with a tip that helped resolve a drive-by shooting case.

“The reason why that happened was because of all the time that was spent before that trying to build a positive relationship,” Hanaumi told KIRO Radio.

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