COURTHOUSE – A recent name change for the city police’s former crime prevention unit signals a continuing, expanding effort by the department to build strong relationships between police and citizens, which both builds public trust and helps law enforcement prevent crime more effectively.
Police Lt. Brian Walters, who was until recently the head of what is now called the community engagement unit, addressed the change during a meeting of the First Precinct Citizens Advisory Committee in January at the municipal center. Walters spoke shortly before his promotion to lieutenant.
He said the idea of improving engagement with communities follows the President’s Task Force Report on 21st Century Policing, a set of recommendations requested under the Obama administration and meant to find strategies to enable crime solving while improving community trust and building deeper relationships.
Such ideas, also supported by law enforcement groups, are described in a Virginia Beach response to the task force recommendations. Topics include building trust and legitimacy, community policing and crime reduction, among others.
The Virginia Beach Police Department in the 21st Century report is available online via vbgov.com/police. It notes a number of ways the department proactively connects with citizens. Engaging with citizens is not a new idea in police work.
“We’re just going to be doing it a little more intentionally,” Walters said.
The unit will maintain responsibilities in crime prevention areas such as assisting businesses and citizens with minimizing potential for crime and providing training for neighborhood watches. It also will work across the department to help engage communities to solve problems and build trust. Effectively, it’s a “rebranding,” Walters said.
Walters said the unit would help other areas of the department build expertise in the philosophy, including through training.
He noted that strong connections with citizens is a priority for the department, and he said there already are opportunities for members of the community to engage with law enforcement.
“CACs are a great organization for that,” he said, speaking of the citizens advisory committees, which gather citizens, law enforcement and representatives from local government agencies to discuss community issues.
The department’s 21st Century Policing report responded to recommendations made under the Obama administration’s Justice Department after President Obama convened a task force to study issues such as crime prevention approaches and community trust.
The U.S. Department of Justice press office did not respond to a call and email from The Independent News seeking comment.
Former Wellesley, Mass., Police Chief Terrence Cunningham in 2016 wrote in The Police Chief Magazine that the idea of community engagement recognized that law enforcement “cannot operate alone.”
“Support can only be achieved if law enforcement is actively engaged with its community in a trusting, open, and transparent manner,” he wrote in his then-capacity as president of the International Association of Police Chiefs. “This proactive engagement is particularly important with those facets of the community that tend to trust the police the least.”
The Major Cities Chiefs Association, which includes Virginia Beach, in 2015 adopted a resolution supporting recommendations.
The resolution supports, among other things, encouraging “cutting edge programs that provide transparent oversight, involve the community in crime reduction efforts, provide the necessary training and education for officers throughout their careers and to address pressing officer safety and wellness efforts.”
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