Rambler Newspapers

Serving Irving, Coppell and Grand Prairie

Police Departments Strive to Build Community Relationships

Grand Prairie, Irving–In recent weeks as people chanted “Black Lives Matter,” “Say his name,” and “Hands up, don’t shoot,” another saying has spread throughout the country.

After the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by Derek Chauvin, a white former-Minneapolis police officer, thousands of people joined in protests calling for police reform. Their rallying cry: “Defund the Police.”

The slogan has caused a myriad of different responses by people across the country. Grand Prairie Police Chief Daniel Scesney people want a police department with intentional change.

“I personally don’t think the public as a whole is concerned about who’s holding the dollars and cents it is more concerned about how those dollars are spent,” Scesney said. “I think the broader push is to get away from a traditional reactive policing model and go to a model that has a much more social services foundation.

“In 2011, we completely rebooted the way we do business in Grand Prairie and went to a very heavy community policing model for this very reason. For us, community policing means if our officer is driving down the street and he sees kids playing basketball, it is okay to get out of your car, on the clock, walk over there and shoot baskets with the kids. That’s a part of who we are. That’s part of building relationships.

“There’s a lot of places in other parts of this country where that isn’t the focus,” Scesney said. “There needs to be a very broad community policing approach across every agency in this country. It is way overdue. I think our department has done a lot of really good work down that road, and we will continue to do that.”

The Grand Prairie Police Department’s (GPPD) approved budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year was $50,900,712 or almost 35 percent of the city’s General Fund. While they plan for the upcoming fiscal year, Steve Dye, Grand Prairie deputy city manager/COO and former GPPD police chief, said he does not feel any pressure about seriously changing how police funds are allocated because of the changes which began in 2011.

“Our community policing model centers around being part of our community and working with every stakeholder in our city to ensure an equitable quality of life for everyone,” Dye said in an email. “[We have a] holistic problem-solving approach focused on quality of life [as opposed to] solely focusing on response times and enforcement.”

“When you look at it from an aspect of readjusting funding, there are certain items on a budget that are required or the first items money is spent on,” Robert Reeves, Irving Police Department’s public information officer, said. “We spend our money first on uniforms, the gear and equipment, new vehicles. Salaries are a large portion of our budget as well. You have to spend money on training, too.

“The next thing after that is our community outreach programs. They’re essential, because it’s needed for us to have those relationships with our community.”

One such program is Shop Talk. Officer Jon Plunkett had the idea after the July 2016 Dallas Police shooting. The program allows residents to have genuine and intentional conversations with officers.

“Officers are going in there, sitting down and having conversations with those stakeholders in the community,” Reeves said. “By having those conversations, they are able to put down some of the barriers, so the tough questions get asked.”

While the police departments’ multimillion dollar budgets help with build healthy relationships with the community, it also ensures officers are taken care of, so they can be at their best to serve. According to a study from the Ruderman Family Foundation, the number of police who die by suicide each year is three times that of those killed in the line of duty.

“I’ve seen that directly at the Irving Police Department,” Reeves said. “We’ve had three officers killed in the line of duty, we’ve had nine officers commit suicide.

“After our last officer committed suicide, we formed and created a peer support team which is headed up by a clinical physician. She’s the same one who is on our mental health unit.

“If you’re having a hard time dealing with something, you can request to speak with a psychologist or attend a program,” Reeves said. “The department has been very cooperative in giving those officers time off to go and speak to someone.”

“At the Grand Prairie police department, we have a mental health coordinator on staff and part of her responsibilities are number one: If an officer is in struggling, she is available to confidentially work those issues through with them,” Scesney said. “She also has a number of resources that she can suggest if the officer doesn’t feel comfortable speaking to her. There are a myriad of other mental health resources that are available to them to help keep them of sound mind.

“It’s a priority, because police officers go from one person’s crisis to the next to the next to the next. And that can take a very challenging mental toll. Imagine seeing a baby whose feet has been intentionally burned or woman who has been badly beaten by an abusive spouse. Those types of calls take a toll.

“Our strategy as it relates to mental health is robust, but it’s just one piece of our wellness,” Scesney said. “We ensure our officers have financial wellness training. We also have spiritual wellness where we have a clergy coalition of over nearly 100 different pastors in our community that partner with us. Physical fitness is key to stress management, so our officers all have access to free workout facilities.”

Despite the progress GPPD has made over nearly the last decade and the resources to help officers, Scesney also recognizes the challenges of hiring officers and reviewing policies to continue improving the department’s ability to serve the community.

“Improving is a continual process,” he said. “Agencies need to understand that policies and procedures need to be constantly reviewed. We’ve got a lot of policies, but we lay eyes on every single one at least once every three years, because there are things that change and need to be changed.

“It’s important to realize that policy is, in my opinion, not the answer. One of the biggest problems we’re encountering in police work right now is officers that never should have been in the profession in the first place.

“We have to be very, very diligent about reviewing these applicants before they get into our profession and understand that’s a challenging problem. We have to pick the best of the best and make sure that they meet our moral code. It is absolutely destructive to even have one cop who is unethical on the force.

“We continue to do everything we can to keep our community safe,” Scesney said. “That’s done through a meaningful partnership that we’ve already established, but we are going to continue to work toward making sure everyone in our community is treated with dignity and respect during every interaction every day.”