Community policing has been on the forefront of people’s minds after the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.
With heightened scrutiny on how police officers are trained and how they handle interactions with residents in their jurisdiction, it begs the question: Does having police officers or deputies live in the communities they serve actually beneficial?
Will it help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the people they serve?
James City County
In James City County, each officer must live within 15 miles from the county line, said James City County Police Chief Bradley Rinehimer.
The department has 105 “sworn officers” and “approximately 75” of them live in the county,
While he understands it can be challenging for officers to live in James City County because “it’s expensive to live here,” the department does not currently plan to expand that mileage requirement.
One of the reasons for the mileage requirement is for some officers, such as specialty members like the dive team, marine patrol and SWAT, who need to be able to response quickly when needed, he said.
“We certainly try to encourage those officers to live near the county,” Rinehimer said.
Another reason is community policing.
While the department does have some officers who live outside the county who are “very involved in the community,” Rinehimer’s preference is to have his officers live in James City County.
“With all things being equal, we would prefer officers do live in the communities that they serve as they do typically tend to care more about the communities where they reside, send their kids to school, socialize, etc,” he wrote in an email. “I would not say that living in the community or not is a deciding factor on whether someone is active in community policing.”
Rinehimer said the department devotes a lot of “time and resources” to community policing and “every single officer takes it seriously”.
“I think every department in the country talks about community policing but that’s one of the things that separates our department,” Rinehimer said. “We all know that the stronger our community the better it will be for all of us.”
The Williamsburg Police Department does not have a mileage requirement, meaning officers can live in other jurisdictions but work in Williamsburg.
“You’re subject to call back, but there’s no requirement,” said police Chief Sean Dunn.
When asked if whether an officer living in the area they serve makes a difference in community policing, he said the Historic Triangle community “overlaps on so many different levels.”
“Chances are you are a part of the larger Historic Triangle community,” Dunn said. “Maybe it makes a difference in some places, I certainly don’t feel like there is a tremendous benefit.”
He noted a lot of the officers have “very close ties here” and the area is “really just one big community.”
“I certainly don’t think it distracts from the work that the officers do,” he added.
The department has a total of 38 sworn police officers: 8 officers live in Williamsburg, 6 live in York County and 12 live in James City County. The remaining 12 officers live in other jurisdictions.
Dunn said all their officers are committed to serving the community “regardless of where they lay their heads at night.”
“Our region may be separated by jurisdictional lines but we make up one greater cohesive community,” he wrote in an email. “Often times, residents and visitors alike are unsure of the actual locality they are in due to the almost seamless transition from one jurisdiction to another.”
Dunn said a year and a half ago the department broke the city into 26 geographic areas giving each community a single point of contact for the police department: A neighborhood resource officer.
While he said they started making progress, in March the coronavirus slowed their efforts down.
“The program continues and the concept continues,” he said. “It’s just a little bit more difficult now.”
For example, the department wanted to set up a tent where residents could ask officers questions while social distancing, but then Northam issued more restrictions for Hampton Roads and the Peninsula.
“I’m really hoping another month or so, we’re able to get that down the line,” Dunn said. “Community policing…is the fabric of our department. It is really important to us.”
WYDaily reached out to York-Poquoson Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Diggs to comment about community policing and he referred questions to Maj. Ron Montgomery.
Similar to the Williamsburg Police Department, YPSO does not require its deputies to live in York County or Poquoson, Montgomery wrote in an email.
“We prefer that deputies that do not live in the county live within twenty five miles of the county boundary line,” he wrote. “The rationale for this is the response time that it would take for the deputy to return to the county if needed for emergencies, such as severe weather, or criminal activity.”
Out of the 108 “full-time sworn deputies,” 50 live in York County.
“I do not feel that requiring a deputy to live in the county has any impact on the quality of the services they provide while on duty,” Montgomery wrote in an email. “We have three patrol zones in York County and early in their careers here, patrol deputies cycle through all of the zones to become familiar with the entire county.”
He said deputies work the same patrol zone for an “extended period of time” which allows them to be “familiar with the residential and business communities that they serve.”
“That relationship is the foundation for Community Policing and is much more important than the location of their residence,” he added.
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