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How Detroit police take neighborhood approach to policing

Neighborhood officers work to create relationship with community first

DETROIT – The Detroit Police Department takes a different approach when it comes to policing, or “serving the community” as some prefer to call it.

It’s a method that has formed a unique bond between the officers and people living in the communities they serve. While violent protests have played out all across the country and world after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a White officer, things were a bit different in Detroit. Still there’s a demand to end racism in the U.S., especially when it comes to White police officers and how they relate to Blacks in the communities they serve.

We asked Detroit Police Sgt. Steven Shank: “When you hear about a White cop that is being accused of murdering a Black male, what type of feeling do you get?”

“It irks you because it’s wrong,” said Shank. “No matter what race, it’s wrong and so it hurts you. You feel for that family.”

Sergeant Shank, a 22-year veteran with the Detroit Police Department, has felt and understands the tension even months since George Floyd was killed. Some people might still be scared of the police.

“I don’t think we should live in fear,” said Sgt. Shank. “I think most officers that we work with are here for the right reasons and they’re trying protect people, care about people.”

Are White cops racist?

“You can’t paint everybody with that broad brush,” Shank said. “Whether it’s my skin color, personality, don’t judge me by what I look like from the outside. Judge me for who I am as an individual.”

Has Shank been judged?

“I believe at times because of what I -- my skin appearance and what I might look like to somebody else,” said Shank.

How has that made him feel?

“You know what it actually motives me in a way. One thing I can say, I allow the negative to fuel me to bring positive,” he said.

What Detroit Neighborhood Police Officers think

In fact, the Detroit Police Department works to bring positive changes across the city and prevent what happened in Minnesota from happening here through neighborhood policing. Sgt. Shank, along with Neighborhood Police Officers (NPOs) David Vazquez, Alexis Kellogg, Dan Robinson and more make up that unit across the city.

“We are a special unit that is a liaison between community and businesses. We deal mostly with quality of life issues,” said Kellogg.

“We have the opportunity to get a deeper level into the community to bridge that gap and build a relationship with the citizens,” said Vazquez. “Give them an opportunity for us to meet them and for them to meet us as well and to see that you know we’re here.”

These officers work to make sure the community knows them and vice versa. But the pain of what happened in Minnesota affects how the community relates to them.

Do these Detroit neighborhood officers think people fear the police?

“I think people do,” said Kellogg. “I think people do from what they see on TV or social media or the current situations. We can’t be blind to what’s happening. The only way that you can help the situation is keep getting out there and keep in communication and keeping dialogue going.”

"In reality most officers want to be part of your life and not be feared in any kind of way," said Vazquez.

“If I were there I believe I definitely could have helped prevent that from happening,” said Robinson.

Showing community who they really are

And that’s part of Robinson’s and other NPO’s goal every day, and it appears to be working. Every day is a chance to show the community who Detroit police officers really are.

"I allow the negative to fuel me to bring positive," said Sgt. Shank. "The next thing you do as far as me personally I go into my next day and say Lord give me the strength to let people see You in me. To let them see Christ in me because as a Christian that's a challenge for myself everyday so that they don't see me as an officers who wears this badge or my skin color so that they can see me."

Each police precinct has NPOs. The officers we spoke with believe their approach to policing or serving the community as they prefer to call it is working and they will continue to work hard to get to know the residents in the community they serve.

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