Bridging the gap in Powder Springs

Communication is a vital component of any successful relationship. For instance, a strong, healthy marriage will almost always be based on both spouses practicing open and honest communication. Parent/child relationships, work relationships and friendships are all more effective when consistent, honest communication takes place. This principle is equally important when it comes to the relationship between a police department and the people it serves.

Our mission statement says, “The Powder Springs Police Department exists to enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Powder Springs by implementing integrity-based, progressive policing.”

To fulfill this mission, we must understand the importance of establishing trust-based relationships with those we serve. As a police department, we will always maintain the imperative function of protecting citizens and enforcing the law.

However, as we continue to “serve and protect,” we also need to create as many opportunities as possible to build and enhance relationships with our citizens. In light of the recent national spotlight on the perceived disconnect between police departments and their communities, this emphasis is more important than ever.

Our department, along with Cobb County police, has worked alongside several local churches to create community events called, “Bridge the Gap.” Our most recent Bridge the Gap session was held at First United Methodist Church of Powder Springs. The goal of these events is simple: open communication between police and citizens.

From the police perspective, we address “hot topics” related to policing, such as use-of-force policies. We have shared these policies with citizens and discussed an officer’s decision-making process when he or she is faced with the need to apply force, including deadly force.

We have also shared departmental procedures related to internal investigations of officers involved in use-of-force incidents, as well as the departmental processes for handling complaints against officers in general. These are just a few examples of several topics we have discussed, to communicate with citizens what we doand why we do it.

Moreover, attendees are encouraged to ask questions about concerns or issues they might have about our department or policing in general. Just as we want to be heard, we want to hear from those we serve. The hope is that open discussion about police-related matters will help build trust with those we serve.

These events are just one way we strive to communicate and enhance relationships with our community. Other examples include our neighborhood program called C.A.P. (Citizens and Police). Individual officers are assigned to specific neighborhoods to better meet that neighborhood’s needs.

We also offer two Citizen’s Police Academies a year that let citizens learn firsthand about police operations; citizens are provided training similar to that of a police officer. The academy benefits the community and the department because it builds and enhances relationships and creates a cadre of citizens better informed about the reality of police work.

Other programs include our annual Run for Food 5K, which raises lunch money for underprivileged children, and our mentoring program, which provides officer mentoring of local students. Business Watch, Chief’s Chat at McEachern High School and “Police and Pastors” quarterly luncheons are additional examples of how we strive to build and enhance relationships with our community.

We are fortunate to work in Powder Springs and Cobb County, where our officers receive tremendous support from citizens, businesses and local government. At the same time, in light of the national focus on police relationships with communities, we cannot take this support for granted. We must continue to work tirelessly to communicate in order to build and maintain trust with the citizens we serve.

John Robison is police chief of Powder Springs.