Delray Beach police Officers (l-r) Andrew Collaretti and Jared Schumer speak with Lakeland residents Steve and Christa Harold June 1 as they patrol the beach area to meet and greet residents and engage in conversation. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Rich Pollack
Through a series of new community initiatives and practices, Delray Beach police are making an enhanced effort to get to know residents before problems arise.
“Our mantra is ‘Before 911,’” Chief Jeff Goldman said. “We need to connect with the community before residents call 911, before there is a crisis.”
Since October, the department has rolled out several new programs designed to increase interaction between officers and residents. Among the initiatives are the Walk and Talk program, the Donuts with Delray PD program and an enhanced Vacation Watch program.
In addition, Goldman has changed the road patrol structure so that officers are now assigned to the same area every time they’re working.
“Before they would rotate around the city,” he said. “You lost the opportunity for community engagement and you lost accountability.”
With the new structure, officers can become more familiar with the residents of their assigned area. They also have better communication with other officers assigned to that same area on different shifts.
Building connections with residents is the goal of the Walk and Talk program, in which officers are asked to get out of their cars for 15 minutes and meet residents in the community they’re responsible for.
Goldman said the program is working well, with him getting calls from residents surprised to be meeting the officers.
“I get constant feedback,” Goldman says.
Building better relationships with residents is also one of the benefits of the department’s improved Vacation Watch program, where residents can go online and request that officers check on their homes while they’re away.
In the past, Goldman said, residents had the opportunity to call the department and ask for extra checks while they were away but the program didn’t include any measure of accountability to ensure checks were being done as frequently as necessary.
With the new computerized system, officers are now able to document each time they check on a home. Residents receive a notification when they return listing each time the home was checked.
Goldman says officers now have the opportunity to meet with the residents before they leave whenever possible and also now have an opportunity to become more familiar with the property, which could be beneficial in a future emergency situation.
Like the officers they supervise, Goldman and his senior staff also make it point to get out and meet residents through initiatives like Donuts with Delray PD. Through the program, officers are invited to gatherings such as homeowner association or Chamber of Commerce meetings, where they can talk informally over doughnuts and coffee provided by the Police Department.
In addition, the department has an active Facebook page that includes videos in the Spotlight Series, highlighting specialized groups or activities within the department.
“We tell our people that if you connect enough before 911, you’re building relationships that will help you do your job better and help you serve the community better,” Goldman said.