Police, community work for safe city

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published February 13, 2013

 Sam Tijerina teaches a class for the Explorers Program open house Jan. 29 at the Southfield Police Department. The program teaches youth 14-21 years old about law enforcement and careers in the field.

Sam Tijerina teaches a class for the Explorers Program open house Jan. 29 at the Southfield Police Department. The program teaches youth 14-21 years old about law enforcement and careers in the field.

Photo by Andrew Potter

SOUTHFIELD — Through the last few years, the Southfield Police Department has been operating under the unofficial motto that less is more. Heading into 2013, Chief Eric Hawkins said the force has the statistics and support from the community to back it up.

“One of the things that I wanted to do as the new police chief was to increase our level of community involvement. With reduced resources and a stressed budget, it’s important that the Police Department leverage all the talent of the community in order to maintain safety,” said Hawkins, who took on the role as permanent chief in the fall. “Crime is down in all major categories in the city, and it’s been on a steady downtrend for the last six or seven years. A lot of it is because of programs and initiatives coming out of the department.”

The need to keep up with security demands in the community with fewer resources isn’t something unique to Southfield, but how the department has handled it, with special initiatives, is something the city can be proud of, he said.

“Police departments across the country, in every city, have fewer officers now than they had five years ago. That’s attributable to the economy and budget issues.”

At its peak, the Southfield Police Department had between 150-160 officers, Hawkins said. Currently, there are about 130 sworn officers, with a vast majority of them being uniformed road patrol and now carrying numerous skill sets.

“We are training officers so they are able to multitask and perform more than one function,” he noted, adding that community policing officers can now conduct traffic enforcement and service calls on the road. Upgrades in technology and beefed-up training also means the department is still functioning up to par.

“We are performing the same, or even better, than when we had more officers on the force. Because of advances in training and equipment, we can operate even more effectively now. There is no reduction in quality of delivery,” Hawkins said.

The average response time for local officers is around five to seven minutes, he added.

Among the most promising benefits from the freed-up time and energy just might be the fact that the department is able to reach further into the community, according to Hawkins.

He said that statistics show police departments that are engaged with members of the community have a much better chance at reducing criminal activity. Instituting programs designed to prevent crime and continue dialogue about relevant safety issues can make a significant impact, he added.

“We know that the fear of crime or perception of crime can be just as dangerous as actual criminal acts, themselves.”

One of the newest programs to launch is the Safe Streets Pledge, in which community members are encouraged to sign and commit, alongside officers, to curbing distracted driving. Other programs, like the various academies and training programs, are running strong.

Southfield residents of 22 years Melvin and Linnie Taylor are both recent graduates of the department’s Citizen’s Academy. In the fall, Melvin and his wife, a former councilwoman, enrolled in the 10-week course to get hands-on training about stepping up to their role as residents.

“We have total responsibility as citizens for what happens in Southfield. It’s not the police officers’ primary responsibility to make citizens do what they should. As citizens, we are supposed to do that,” Melvin Taylor said. “They assist us in making our community safer, and our responsibility is to assist the police when there is a hiccup in the system. They can’t be everywhere and doing everything.”

The Taylors, who raised two children in Southfield, say that they do feel safe in the city, and they now feel even more empowered with the training under their belts and being more equipped to handle “hiccups,” or security issues, around town.

“One of the benefits of the program was to learn to be hands and eyes for the Police Department as part of the community and assist them as much as possible while they are doing their job,” Melvin Taylor said. “Personal security for my family and the people of the community is important to me.”

He added that the academy also put a “human face” on officers and why they do what they do to keep the city safe. Particularly, the dedication of the department to host such programs was impressive to him, he said. “These officers took time away from their families to do this program. And they didn’t just go through it; they did it from the heart.”

The Southfield Police Department’s Explorers Program allows the youth of the community to get involved, too. The program is for high school students and youth under the age of 21 to get an inside look at how the local authorities function.

Hawkins said it is particularly special in showing local youth that they have a place in the field.

“The Explorers Program provides a positive relationship between police officers and young people,” he said, adding that it “encourages personal growth and development” in these curious and ambitious participants.

For Southfield resident Janie Bell, 19, the weekly training program has reinforced her dream to go into law enforcement, but also led to her aspire to join the Southfield force, specifically.

“I would like to keep doing the program until I age out, and then I plan to apply for the cadet position in Southfield,” Bell, a freshman studying criminal justice at Schoolcraft College, said. She hopes to eventually land a federal job in law enforcement.

“I like to help people out and I’m more of an adventurous type of person; I don’t like sitting still. I need to be up and moving. Plus, I really care about the community and I want to help people out. The program gave me an even better chance to see what it’s actually like to be (in the field),” she said.

Training on traffic stops, building searches, domestic violence incidents and other situations has given her the behind-the-scenes look at her future career, she added, though it might be the ride-along sessions with officers that are her favorite.

True to her love of adventure, Bell was fascinated to be part of two high-speed chases with traffic enforcement officers so far.

“It’s everything I thought. I love it,” she said.

Hawkins said that programs like these are all just part of the job.

“To me, it’s important that everyone in the Southfield Police Department, both sworn and nonsworn personnel, are part of this community. We don’t operate independently from what’s happening in the community,” he said. “It’s easy to just come in and say, we’ve got the training and experience to do things, but maybe that’s not what the community wants and needs. As public servants, we serve the people in the community.”


Stopping crime in the community

Several initiatives hosted through the Southfield Police Department exist to make crime prevention in the city more accessible to the residents. Some center around hands-on approaches, like training opportunities, while others serve as support teams that function via awareness and extending additional policing services to the community.

Here’s a look at various ways citizens can connect with the Southfield PD:

• Take the Safe Streets Pledge to denounce distracted driving and spread awareness about increased traffic enforcement happening around the city. Visit www.cityofsouthfield.com for more information.

• Place a call into Operation GOT M with complaints centering around traffic, loud music or littering. This program encourages watchful eyes where officers cannot be, and tipsters can leave a voicemail message with as much information as possible to help out. Call (248) 796-GOTM (4686) to take part.

• Become familiar with the department’s different divisions and services, such as the Crime Prevention Bureau, which works to educate Southfield about security in the city, and the Chaplain Program, which has officials who represent the city at different ceremonies and in times of need and distress. There is also the School Liaison Officer Program, in which an officer casually interacts daily with faculty, staff and students in a school environment. Their role is to not only enforce laws, but to become counselors, confidants and even friends of the students in the district.

• Stay up-to-date with happenings around your community through the Citizen Information Network. This information sharing systems lets residents sign up to receive emails regarding crime alerts and breaking reports. Visit www.citizenobserver.com to check it out and sign up.

For more information on police programs, contact the Southfield Police Department at (586) 279-1108.