By Harry Murphy and George Jdey
Community policing is a term that describes “the system of allocating police officers to particular areas so that they become familiar with the local inhabitants.” Many police departments around the United States, including Walpole Police Department, have implemented the practice of community policing to build trust with their community members.
These efforts have been noticed by organizations like the New England Association of Chiefs of Police, who recognized the Walpole Police with one of four awards given in 2018. The other New England communities included Provincetown, Dennis, and Somerville.
In August of 2018, the Walpole Police Department was presented with a community policing award by NEACOP president Ross Atstupenas (Photo/ Mike Gleason, Wicked Local)
These efforts have not gone unnoticed by the student or staff bodies at Walpole High School, as students have noticed the increased presence of Walpole Police officers both in the school and the town. The Walpole Police Department, for the past few years, has taken major strides to improve their relationship with the citizens of Walpole through an increased presence in schools, extracurricular activities, and community outreach.
“They started more community policing and we see that there seems to be a little more trust of the police, relationships seem to be better,” said Stephen Imbusch, principal at Walpole High School. “I think students are more used to seeing the police around and not getting concerned when they see them around.”
This October, the Walpole Police decided to take their efforts to Walpole High, where they gave away "Positive Tickets" and movie theater gift cards. (Photo/ Walpole Police Department, Facebook)
A few years ago, the Walpole Police have conducted the survey with the town about their work. Since then, the Walpole Police Department has placed a large emphasis on community policing.
“The town told us years ago during a survey that they wanted more face-to-face interactions, positive interactions," said Walpole High School Resource Officer Thomas Hart. “[Chief John Carmichael] totally believes in that, and pushes forward to reach out and try to connect with the community.”
Walpole High School senior Brendan Cormier recognizes that these changes are having an effect in the community.
“I think that it [is] currently a very helpful thing for the school. It rebuilds the relationship between students and police officers,” said senior Brendan Cormier. “The police are here to protect and serve, and if they can’t protect and serve, then everyone is afraid of them.”
The Walpole Police have fostered a real trusting relationship with the students. In the past, they have given positive tickets, students have played around with Rebel, and the Police have even done ride-alongs around town with students. At this year’s Film Fest, at Walpole High School, students decided to make a movie starring the Walpole Police’s dog. “Rebel," directed by Nicole Waters, Myles Qualter, and Emme DeVito, follows the story of Rebel, who plays a school counselor at Walpole High School. Throughout the story, she offers advice to dogs and humans alike, about life. While the plot of this film may not have much, if anything, to do with police, it is a clear reminder that, by bringing Rebel around the Walpole High School campus, the Walpole Police have had success in building a better relationship with the staff and student body.
"I think WPD has tried hard to reach out to citizens in general, but especially to teens. It's a hard connection to make, but I think they have had some success. Rebel the dog has helped a lot to bridge that gap," said Walpole High School TV teacher Peter O'Farrell. "I think WPD does a good job at providing examples of how to behave. They have laws that they must enforce and it is not always easy or popular to have to do that."
For some WHS students, trust may be harder to earn as some do not like the increased police presence in the community.
“I think it’s unnecessary,” said senior Joey Bilski, “It makes students feel like they are being watched 24/7. But at the same time, it keeps the school safe in case of an emergency.”
Emergency or not, for officers like Officer Hart, this new style of policing has positively impacted the school community. For the past two years, Officer Hart, or “Coach," as known by his athletes, has been a coach for the Walpole High School freshman football team. Hart believes that his position as coach has helped to cultivate a stronger relationship with the student athletes on the team.
At a Walpole Rebels Football game this fall, Community Resource Officer Thomas Hart stood on the sidelines with Rebel, cheering on the athletes that he has been coaching. (Photo/ Walpole Police Department, Facebook)
“I think it has definitely helped the kids, they see me as 'Coach Hart' instead of 'Officer Hart,'" Hart said. “I feel like they are more open to say hello, or to stop and talk to me when they see me outside of school or outside of my profession."
The Walpole school community recognizes how the Walpole Police Department has improved relationships and interactions with students that will not only benefit the school, but also build trust with the community.
“[The Walpole Police] have tried to put a positive spin on their interactions with kids,” said Imbusch, “because if somebody does something wrong, they obviously have to keep the peace. They have to abide by the law, and make sure everyone else is abiding by the law, so there is always that ‘conflict’ that occurs, but the trust is certainly better now than it was before.”