In response to Asbury Park Police Officer Tyron McAllister’s belted-out instructions, a group of kids lined up and, then, sat down for lunch in the Salvation Army gym.
This was a normal day at the city’s Summer Youth Boot Camp, run by an active, but perhaps generally unknown, Police Department unit, the Community Relations Unit.
“We promote a positive image for the police department,” said Patrolman Michael Casey, 42, who has been in the unit for six of his 10 years on the department. “We are not only about making arrests. We’re here to improve the qualities of life.”
On Tuesday, Aug. 5, for example, the unit is running the city’s version of National Night Out, which tries to empower communities against crime. It will run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Asbury Park Municipal Building parking lot and include food and music, along with rides and giveaways for youth and networking opportunities for adults.
The Community Relations Unit also runs such programs as Neighborhood Watch; Citizens on Patrol; resource officers in the schools; prevention of drug and alcohol use, along with getting involved in gangs; Coffee with a Cop; and interacting with community groups.
The unit is now working on having the Police Cadets and a youth performing arts group interacting with senior citizens.
McAllister said “there’s many different modes” of police work.
“We respond to the needs of the citizens,” said McAllister, 36, who was born and raised in the city. “Different areas, blocks, could have different needs.”
Speeding traffic could be a problem on Fourth Avenue, while another part of the city may be dealing with shootings, Casey said.
The most recent life of the unit goes back about seven years, about the time Mark Kinmon became chief.
The Community Relations Unit is headed by Sgt. Terry Williams. Besides Williams, Casey and McAllister, the unit includes Police Officers Jessie Davila and Patrolman Byron Young.
“I find it’s an essential component of policing,” Casey said. “If you can reach a child, let them know you’re approachable. If you can make an impression that they’re not afraid to speak to you.”
“I know we’re impacting lives,” McAllister said.
Casey and McAllister, both parents, see an importance in working with youth.
“If you put a good cop with a kid, it’s a recipe for success,” McAllister said.
The unit is small and the officers have various jobs within the unit: Young is the resource officer at the high school and Davila is the resource officer at the middle school, for example.
“If you’re in here (in the unit), you can’t be a slouch,” McAllister said.
The Community Relations Unit can be reached through Williams at telephone number 732-502-5705.
FOLLOW The Coaster on FACEBOOK here.