Police initiative to build community trust making progress

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 361 views 

The Fort Smith Police Department is making progress on a new “community first” initiative aimed at building a less confrontational, stronger relationship with residents of Fort Smith.

Operation Community First is a police department effort to get officers to make non-enforcement contact with residents of Fort Smith, according to Chief of Police Nathaniel Clark.

A non-enforcement contact is any positive interaction with the public that does not result in an arrest or that is not connected to a specific crime in any way, said Fort Smith Public Information Officer Aric Mitchell.

“It’s going into businesses to let people know we’re here, and that we’re there for them,” Mitchell said.

Officers hand out Community First business cards that include the department’s phone number, email and Facebook information.

“We have 80 patrol officers who have been shouldering much of this responsibility over the last few weeks, but our detectives have gotten in on it as well,” Mitchell said.

Starting Dec. 3, Clark, deputy chiefs Danny Baker and Larry Ranells and all sergeants, lieutenants and captains will join officers in the community effort, he added.

“We’ll be out in uniform, going to businesses and talking to people,” Clark said. “The community is our most important asset in doing our jobs. We want them to know we are here for them. We want them to come to us with their concerns and needs.”

Since the first of October, officers have made 6,000 non-enforcement contacts, with the goal to reach 10% of the city’s population before the first of the year.

“We have about 3,000 more to go (this next month),” Clark said. “The officers are really excited about this initiative.”

The goal of the initiative is two-fold: To serve as a deterrent to possible criminal activity and to change public perceptions of the department as “guardians of the peace” rather than “warriors fighting crime,” Mitchell said. “Reducing the rate of crime should help with enforcement as well.”

“We can’t do enforcement without the community. We want them to know we want to provide a level of service that really meets their needs,” Clark said.

Clark took over the Fort Smith Police Department in January 2017. City Administrator Carl Geffken said when finalists were being interviewed for the position, the city’s board of directors highly stressed community-based policing. Community-based policing or community-oriented policing is a philosophy/strategy that sees the police and the community working together to solve problems of crime, disorder and safety and to improve the quality of life in a city.