Youth and community advocacy groups in Syracuse are working with city police to try and bridge gaps between officers and neighborhoods. The SPD has been making a concerted effort to connect with the residents they serve and nurture more positive interactions.
Sergeant Matthew Malinowski says just having conversations as they try to settle neighbor disputes, for example, can go a long way.
"When it comes time to solve a crime, who do we need? We need the community. But if they don’t trust us, they are not going to give us information. But it starts with those small relationships. We can’t just come into a community, doing a traffic stop and arresting somebody, and then say, ‘oh now you can help us’. So it is really interjecting us police into the community and building other positive relationship and then we can have cooperation."
Deacon Will Rogers is with VOICE, which stands for Violence Overcome by Involving Community Effort. He and Sergeant Malinowski say they connected right away only after a couple of meetings.
"When you remove the barriers you get to see more buy-in. The deal is, you bring in value, and the word is, trust. We are in it together."
But they know racial and other barriers might make it harder to click with the larger community. Malinowski, who is white, says he’s tried to ease any tension by simply waving out his patrol car window. He’s invited Rogers, who is black, on a ride-along, and knows he’ll bring a different perspective.
“So if we were riding together and he sees somebody give me the middle finger, he might be able to say: hey, what is that about?” Malinowski said.
“You may get that resistance the first time,” Rogers said. “But I use that as fuel for an opportunity. Think about it, if I go, ‘oh, this is not worth it; it is not fun for me to be out there,’ right? Why would you do that, was it feeling about me not to be afraid to accept what they may say to me. Just take a step back and try to understand where it coming from because it may be misconstrued. We can’t shut down.”
Malinowski says diversity on the police force will build trust.
"That’s why diversity is huge in our department. It is huge. I get it. They may be more related or comfortable with someone that looks like them. "
He says just as officers are trying to connect with residents, officers invite residents to approach them to break down that initial barrier.