Decatur police step up community outreach

Officer Copeland and Officer Santiago play basketball with teenagers after the Madison Avenue Soapbox Derby. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Ross

Aiden Gibbs

For many teenagers, the police are enemies. Stories of police brutality, encounters at house parties, and limited positive interactions have created a stereotype of the police, and it’s one that many officers find unfair.

Jennifer Ross, Community Information and Education Manager for the Decatur Police Department (DPD), is one of these officers. For Ross, hostility between teens and police is rooted in a lack of communication.

“Most of the time teenagers think they shouldn’t talk to us because we’re the police, or they don’t want to talk to us because we’re authority figures,” Ross said. “What if I didn’t want to talk to you because you’re young? That’s not fair…it’s the same dynamic [with the police].”

Despite this hostility, teens and officers have something in common: they’re both subject to stereotypes.

“I hear the stereotypes about teenagers and it’s not fair,” Ross said. “Just like police officers: all officers are getting judged by what’s in the news.”

To overcome this issue, the DPD is working to actively engage young citizens. Now, the department is working with the Decatur Parent Network (DPN) to provide teens with free activities. One of the new activities is teen night.

Decatur High’s school resource officer Richard Phillips also wants to overcome tense teen-police relationships.

“I need [teenagers] to understand we’re all here to help [them],” Phillips said.

For Phillips, animosity between the groups is driven by media and resistance.

“I have kids saying ‘[F the police]’ and they don’t know what they’re saying it for,” Phillips said. “They don’t hate the police; it’s a rebellion against authority. That’s the way I see it.”

Teen relations are not the only ones the department wishes to improve. They also wish to improve community-wide relations.

One way the department would like to combat negative police stereotypes is through social media.

Since the expansion of their Twitter and Facebook accounts in December 2016, the department has used social media platforms to engage with the community and inform them about upcoming events.

These events include teen nights, but also free women’s self-defense classes, Junior Police Academy, and community presentations.

Citizens join in RAD Women’s Self-Defense course with Capt. Matics, Lt. Ross, Officer Jackson, Sgt. Hall and School Resource Officer Phillips. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Ross

Community presentations are hosted with organizations that train officers, like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and provide information on suicide awareness, behavioral health and illnesses like depression and Alzheimer’s.

“We know these great services are out there,” Ross said, “but that doesn’t help if families who need it doesn’t know it exists.”

The department will also participate in Touch a Truck on March 25 by providing cars for children to explore and registering bicycles.

More information about these events is available on the Decatur Police Department’s website, Twitter and Facebook page.


Contact the writer at [email protected]