A Community Built on UnderstandingJun 01, 2018 ● By Stephen Hunt
As the population has further diversified, the Frisco Police Department has been proactive about reaching out to all groups, showing that the department is truly here to help local citizens.
“Our job is to serve people,” Assistant Police Chief Darren Stevens, says. “But, to serve people, you have to understand people. To understand people, you have to have an understanding of culture, religion and core values. That is what we have tried to impress — an awareness, understanding and appreciation for cultures beyond our own.”
A Concerted Effort
One avenue for the department to reach out is the Community Liaison Program, where 10 contacts bridge the gap between different communities and the department. “This community liaison (position) is a conduit of information. They can provide information to us, we can provide information to them,” says Deputy Chief of Police Jason Jenkins.
In 2016, the Frisco Police Department held its first religious community leaders breakfast where religious leaders and police met in an informal setting. This is now an annual event. “Our faith-based communities may connect with people who we do not connect with,” Mr. Jenkins shares. “These are close groups that can disseminate information.”
The seeds for these efforts date back to 2015, when the department sent four officers to the Institute of Law Enforcement Administration at the Center for International Law in Plano for training. Upon returning, these officers created a diversity training program, Bridge the Gap, for all department employees. “We asked them to create a program that helps educate about the different nuances for different demographics, races, religions and sexual orientation,” Mr. Stevens says. “We have put everybody through an initial eight-hour block. We followed that up with a four-hour refresher last year. This year, we are looking at what we are going to do for the next wave.”
United in Any Language
In 2015, the Frisco Police Department started a UNIDOS program for the Spanish-speaking community. After hearing about the program’s success in Plano, Sergeant Jorge Sanchez spearheaded the efforts to start this program, founded in Garland several years ago by current Grand Prairie police chief Steve Dye, in Frisco.
Spanish-speaking residents can reach Mr. Sanchez with questions, problems or concerns, like one recent call from a resident wondering about purchasing a car with no title. Mr. Sanchez provided her with various resources and advised her to contact her bank to rectify the situation. “It has been a good resource,” he says. “We want to reach out because that segment of the community sometimes does not get the voice they need. That is what we do — make sure they have a voice.”
The UNIDOS program meets quarterly and all in Spanish, with its next meeting set for June. Mr. Sanchez, a friendly face and voice who speaks the language while representing the department, will discuss summer activities the Hispanic community can participate in. “I get calls at pretty much all times of the night,” he shares. “If it is urgent, we will give immediate attention. But, typically, I call them back within 24 hours. A lot of times, I get questions about a citation and they do not know what to do. Oftentimes, the information was not passed along where they could understand it clearly. I clear a lot of those things up.”
No matter the group, the Frisco Police Department’s outreach to the ever-growing and diversifying population is not going unnoticed. Frisco resident Jeanne S. Rubin is the president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) of North Texas and remembers Frisco as one of several local departments that reached out to GALA to express their condolences after the September 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. “They are a great department. Darren Stevens has really taken it to a new level,” Ms. Rubin says. “I have known him to be totally open, willing to listen, wanting to learn and wanting to serve the community the best way he can. I think they get that to serve the whole community, you have to know who the whole community is.”
Frisco officers have also attended Holi, the Hindu “festival of colours,” held each spring, at the Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple. “We have a good partnership with them,” says a temple volunteer. “It was a complete surprise (when they attended Holi). It was a great way to help the community meet them in a less intimidating circumstance. They have come out when we have had community open houses. We have started having members attend the Frisco Police Department’s Citizenship Academy.”
June Jenkins is president of the Collin County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and she has been impressed with the department’s outreach to the African-American community. “For the African-American community, policing issues are very serious. They seem to be paying attention and wanting to prevent things from occurring,” Ms. Jenkins says. “We have participated in a couple of events on community policing and they have spoken with our branch. They are an excellent resource. They feel they can come to us when an issue is presented and, likewise, we can go to them to address any issues we might have.”
However, it is not just members of these groups who appreciate the Frisco Police Department’s efforts. Other community organizations have also taken notice, like Frisco Family Services (FFS). “As a community, and under the leadership of our police department, we are on the cutting edge,” Nicole Bursey, FFS’ executive director, says. “It is awesome that our police department has taken the lead to talk with various groups and gain understanding on both sides. It is something worth sharing, particularly for a community growing like ours. I really appreciate that we are on the proactive side of this, and if something were to happen, I would know who to contact.”
Thank you to the Frisco Police Department for making such an effort to keep our community tight-knit and understanding of one another!