Thursday, May 6, 2010

Keeping Us Safe: Observing Our Police Department First Hand

As the City explores the possibility of consolidation of police services, this past weekend I rode along with the San Mateo Police Department to get a better idea of how our Police work in our community to keep us all safe.

On Friday night I rode along with the "Neighborhood Response Team" or NRT.   

NRT is a specialty unit of the San Mateo Police Department.  Comprised of various officers who patrol in uniform in unmarked patrol cars, they are not "bound" to patrol areas in black and white police cars.  This allows the NRT unit the flexibility to respond to community issues and "hot issues" that arise each day.

While the NRT runs operations as diverse as school truancy, illegal taxi cabs, and illegal massage parlors, some of their most important work is in gang suppression.

Many residents do not realize that San Mateo has a number of active gangs -- and we have the NRT unit to thank for this lack of knowledge!  Many of our gang members are felons convicted for dealing drugs or for committing violent assaults and robberies.  NRT officers spend time keeping track of known gang members by identifying when they enter our City, when they are trying to recruit our children into gangs, and when they are trying to stir up trouble. 

Besides keeping track of known gang members and letting them know that our community will not tolerate trouble, NRT officers also play a crucial role in community outreach.  NRT officers work hard to build relationships with at-risk youth by encouraging them to report crimes, steering them away from gangs, talking to their parents, and working to help them understand that there are positive benefits to staying out of gangs. 

On my ride-along with NRT units, I observed officers contact numerous known gang members just to let them know that the police were out there, and reminding them that no trouble would be tolerated.

I also got to see first hand as NRT officers contacted young kids loitering on various street corners and reminded them that there is nothing glamorous about gangs.  In every encounter, I was proud to see our officers conduct themselves with professionalism, courtesy, and poise.

In one instance, I observed how a number of youth first responded belligerently to police upon initial contact, but by the end of the conversation were sharing gum and jokes with the police officers before heeding the officers' advise to head home for the night.  Small encounters like that every day by our NRT unit and their fellow police officers help to keep our City safe. 

While police consolidation is an idea worth consolidating, we must be mindful to be aware of the delicate relationship built between units such as the NRT and the gangs and at-risk youth in our community.  These relationship take months, even years, to build, and once broken can not be easily rebuilt.  The issue of gangs and violence in our community is complex, and the days of having officers keep the peace in just black and white patrol cars is long gone.   Consolidation is worth exploring, but not at the expense of the specialty units that protect our City while we all sleep.

Thanks again to the men and women of the San Mateo Police Department who allowed me to observe what they do for us each night and day.

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