Continuing with its mission of engaging with the community, the San Gabriel Police Department will jumpstart a new school and community engagement program in early August aimed at linking members of the department with local schools. “We want community engagement to be our mantra,” said Eugene Harris, Police Chief. “We are going to be engaged with the community at every level, and the school program is the next iteration of that.”
While the San Gabriel Police Department has engaged with local schools in the past, much of this engagement was inconsistent, and at times, intermittent. “Under the old model, the school was footing part of the bill, and the program was inconsistent. There’d be officers that would come and go,” Harris notes.
Known as the School and Community Engagement Team (or SCET, for short), this new engagement group will consist of a police officer, the crime prevention officer and a cadet. Based out of the San Gabriel Unified School District’s headquarters, SCET will be tasked with fostering a relationship between the police department and area schools. The team will also be in charge of reaching out to at-risk youth, and settling any potential conflicts that may arise within each school.
As part of the police department’s outreach, autonomy is key. Under the new program, every officer in the department – including the police chief – will become a school resource officer of sorts, with officers in the field scheduled to visit their school once per work week, and other members of the department scheduled to visit once per month. As part of the program, each officer will have the freedom to self-direct their own form of engagement. “We don’t necessarily want all our outreach to emanate from a single source as it should be fluid and based on individual school and community area needs,” Harris said.
While the program remains mostly informal at this point, much of this initial informality can create spontaneous moments that may be formalized as the program develops. In one instance, a police officer brought pizza to a local school for lunch in an effort to engage with students and teachers. “Every school is going to have its unique needs, and we’re going to evaluate what techniques work best,” Harris said. “This program is not static, and the officers will have some latitude to coordinate their own outreach efforts.”
Though the San Gabriel Police Department’s immediate goal is to reestablish ties to the city’s schools, its long term vision aims to make officers approachable to children at a young age. “We want children to understand that we’re here as a resource, and that we’re working together to make the quality of life better,” Harris said. “Everybody at the department understands that kids are important, and that is where our best policing effort starts.”
At the moment, the police department is continuing to work with neighborhood schools to prepare SCET for the upcoming school year. “We’re working with area schools to solidify the details of the programs, and we’ve already had officers reach out before the conclusion of the last school year to lay the foundation for this program,” Harris said. “The school districts and the schools themselves have been extremely supportive of the efforts.”
The program is slated to begin on August 5.