Doing It Right: Proactive Community Engagement in Redlands, California
Redlands is a city of just under 70,000 residents situated in San Bernardino County, California. Located in the valley of the San Bernardino Mountains it has a long history as being part of California’s rich agricultural and citrus farming traditions. Known as the Jewel of the Inland Empire, Redlands is an emblematic Southern California city, lying 67 miles east of Los Angeles near the city of Riverside. It also happens to be doing an amazing job with community outreach and community policing.
On January 5, 2011, a shooting that left two young men dead shook the Redlands community. A double-homicide of two African-American victims by a Hispanic shooter was the result of escalating already rising racial and cultural tensions in the community. A week later, about a thousand residents held a prayer walk near the scene of the shooting and members of Redlands Police Department (RPD) and local church officials walked with the community to show that violence would not be tolerated in their community. The community and police later held a screening of the Not In Our Town film Light In The Darkness to further build community unity and dialogue. This kind of alliance with the community is part of what makes Redlands work so well.
Over the years, the RPD has made it part of their mission to build and maintain strong ties with the community. They have done this through creating spaces where productive dialogue can happen and community cohesion can be maintained. Lt. Travis Martinez leads their community policing efforts, as well as being the police liaison to the Human Rights Commission. He says the key for him is working closely with the community while providing leadership. And the community in Redlands is ready to support the police department. There are about 200 local residents that volunteer with RPD in their various outreach efforts.
By being proactive in their community engagement, the RPD is able to let their community know that the police are there to support them. By presenting the film Light In The Darkness, the RPD helped show the ways in which a community can come together after a tragic incident and provide support for one another. The police were not alone in supporting this event. Multiple local organizations, including three chapters of Kiwanis clubs, Music Changing Lives, the Cops & Clergy Network, Common Vision Coalition, SixNineteen Committee, the Islamic Center, and the Redlands Unified School District were all there for the event and participated in a discussion forum moderated by University of Redlands Race and Ethnic Studies Professor Keith Osajima.
RPD is also very active with the local youth, providing a lot of support to schools through their athletic teams. They act as coaches and mentors to middle school and high school student athletes. Sometimes they’ll even trade their police uniform for a football uniform and play charity football games with other teams from area law enforcement. This affords yet another opportunity to engage with the community. The change that happens when they switch uniforms is really important. Martinez said in a recent phone conversation, “The police uniform can put up barriers. When cops are out of their uniform new kinds of conversations can be had. That simple change in uniform can make all the different in the eyes of our community’s kids.”
The impact that RPD has on these young people has lasting effects. After graduating from high school, many young men and women will enroll in a week-long intensive introductory training program called Redlands Emergency Service Academy (RESA) that is held at the University of Redlands. Trainees get experience in climbing aerial ladders, conflict resolution, tactical training, and rappelling. Many of the men and women who work in Redlands’ police and fire services have gone through the program. “While we do look outside for recruits, [when] hiring local people who have stake in the community, whose friends and family live in the community, we end up with employees who are invested in the safety and wellbeing of the community,” said Martinez.
Redlands police’s proactive approach to community policing has been great for the community. The extra effort these officers take in their community work really shows. Whether it’s raising money for the Loma Linda Children’s Hospital and showing up to meet patients while wearing football jerseys, hosting a flag football game for middle school students, or raising the money for a group of 25 at-risk youth to go on $100 shopping sprees at the local Target, the officers deserve a lot of credit for taking such active roles in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the community that they serve.
This article originally appear in the Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services newsletter. You can view the original article here