At a time when many communities across the country are wrestling with how to improve the relationship between the police and residents they serve after horrific events like a police shooting, Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri says his city is taking a proactive approach.
"We’re trying to go and be a pioneer on areas a lot of communities will talk about -- God forbid you’ll see something in the paper or on the news and you say, 'You, we’ve got to do something,'" Palmieri said. "We’re trying to be ahead of that curve."
Utica is creating a community outreach team in its police department, comprised of two officers dedicated to fostering relationships with community organizations and leaders throughout the city to better understand and address quality of life issues.
"It’s just another tool that we feel is extremely important to bring the residents to the forefront and have the open dialogue and conversation with them," Palmieri said.
Utica Police Chief Mark Williams says the officers will do more than just talk with these leaders, they will partner with them.
"Their specific duties is to work closely with businesses, faith-based churches, neighborhood watch groups and area residents to make sure that we improve such things as improve quality of life and, more importantly, build relationships with the community so they feel their police department is not only being transparent and also addressing their concerns," Williams said.
Patrolman Jimmy Dongsavanh, one of the team's officers, said it could also help the police department connect with people they maybe have not had a chance to before.
"I was an inner city kid and with me being appointed to this position, hopefully we will be able to reach out to the inner city kids," Dongsavanh said.
Williams says the community outreach officers will then bring what they have learned from their interactions back to the department to advise their fellow officers and implement best practices.