By DON STINE
Don’t be surprised if you’re out weeding your garden in Neptune this spring and a police officer stops by to talk to you.
It’s all part of a new initiative launched by the department designed to create personal connections between officers and the community by increasing police visibility and interaction.
The “Community Outreach Field Contact Initiative,” put into effect on April 3 and perhaps the first of its kind, is a new directive requiring Neptune police officers to self-initiate at least one new citizen contact every week. During this field contact, the officer will introduce themselves, engage the contact in an informal conversation, discuss neighborhood matters and provide them with a Community Outreach Card. The business-size card has related social media sources and a place where the officer can write in his or her name, badge number, and contact information.
Police Director Michael Bascom said that the program may be the first of its kind.
“I have never heard of anyone ever doing this before and I think it’s a great idea,” he said.
He said the idea was developed after a police command staff meeting.
“This new initiative is intended to provide a great opportunity for our residents to get to know our officers by developing a personal contact within the department. The officer can approach someone while they are working in their yard, walking their dog, or playing with their kids,” Bascom said.
He said the new program in no way interferes with the regular patrols and police assignments.
“It’s just an additional method to maintain open lines of communication and encourage interaction with the community,” he said.
Police Chief James M. Hunt Jr. said that officers have been directed to ask for the person’s name and phone number so that the program can be tracked for effectiveness and the person can be contacted for a follow-up regarding any concerns they might have.
A contact does not necessarily have to be a resident, it can be anyone found within the community. Officers are encouraged to ask the contact about their concerns within the community and contacts are urged to share any problems, minor or major, that they might have.
“For example, if you have noticed that there is excessive noise at a particular time of day, or that a vehicle hasn’t been moved for some time, or have non-police related concerns, such as a pothole or inoperable streetlight, this is your chance to address it with an officer,” Hunt said.
“It goes both ways- officer talk to people and people talk to officers and that automatically increases the lines of communication,” he said.
Hunt said that if a complaint or problem can’t be immediately solved, officers will refer the issue to their supervisor or appropriate municipal department for a follow-up. Community Outreach Field Contacts are not intended for the purposes of conducting an investigation.
“The intent of the Community Outreach Field Contact Initiative is to demonstrate that our police officers are approachable, to obtain information regarding concerns within our community, to grow our positive relationship with the community, and to ultimately continue to reduce crime throughout Neptune. The initiative is expected to generate over 250 new community outreach contacts per month, a great step towards achieving our ultimate goal of crime reduction.” Hunt said.