Waco police engage with neighborhoods

By Telawna Kirbie

In January, the Waco Police Department established a new unit in its Community Services Division called the Neighborhood Engagement Team (NET). This new unit aligns well with Chief Sheryl Victorian’s philosophy of “relational policing.”

Commander Jared Wallace, of Waco PD's Neighborhood Engagement Team, with children at a community opportunity event. .

The concepts integral to relational policing fit nicely into the acronym TREEAT. Transparency, Respect, Engagement, Emotional capital, Accountability and Trust. These tenets are the backbone of what Waco PD is seeking to create between our community’s citizens and law enforcement.

A contentious relationship may develope between law enforcement and the citizens they are to protect. Due in part to social media, incidents involving law enforcement can be public within seconds. Truth and perceptions are often two very separate things, and this makes the conflict much more difficult to traverse. Chief Victorian is dedicated to mitigating these issues by creating positive and healthy relationships between officers and residents.

NET is designed to provide direct relationships between local communities and an assigned officer. These relationships will be established through local neighborhood associations. Waco has 27 neighborhood groups. The associations function as a community level group of residents who live in a specific area. It is a way to give voice to community members.

NET’s purpose is for law enforcement and residents to work together to solve local problems. The creation of these relationships promotes positive interactions between law enforcement and citizens while establishing trust and working together. Citizens can be heard and gain a sense of empowerment as they have “voice” in helping to provide both short and long-term solutions to their specific community issues.

Officers are assigned to specific neighborhood associations for which they attend the regular meetings as well as work with them to create community engagement opportunities and outreach events specific to these areas. For example, the NET team recently organized what they call a “Community Opportunity Event.” This was a public event on a Saturday that had vendors of all sorts including the local library, churches, health booths with health screenings and vaccinations, free food, an on-site DJ, pictures with familiar superheroes, free haircuts, bounce houses, raffle giveaways, and much more for the entire family.

They had a clever way of introducing officers to community members in that each participant was given a bingo card of sorts with categories they must check off for the raffle. Each of the categories was directly tied to finding a police officer with a specific experience, such as having served in the military, having a beard, etc. Although various units at the police department participated, each unit or type of officer wore distinguishing shirts. Officers were able to have a strong presence and ample opportunities to engage with the public.

The Waco Police Department is committed to breaking down perceptions, stereotypes, and other barriers impacting positive relationships between officers and the citizens they are designated to serve and protect. The NET is just one example of this effort, and they are only six months old with plans for much more engagement in our local community to come. Currently, there are five designated NET officers and each of them are assigned to 4-6 specific neighborhoods. Be on the lookout for a local NET officer near you!

If you are not engaged in your local neighborhood association but would like more information, you can contact the Office of Neighborhood Engagement at neighborhoods@wacotx.gov.

Telawna Kirbie, LCSW-S, is director of behavioral health initiatives for Prosper Waco.