Sgt. Josh Nolder spent his Tuesday evening differently than usual; handing out junior police officer stickers, checking off scavenger hunt maps and smiling for selfies with kids.
It was Mountain View’s annual National Night Out block party, part of a nationwide campaign to promote police-community partnerships. Nolder, the new head of the Anchorage Police Department’s Community Action Policing (CAP) team, stood in the parking lot at New Hope Baptist Church and said the neighborhood event was an important way to stay connected.
“Really, we want to build relationships with the community and show that we are part of the community,” the sergeant said. “For me, this is where I grew up – I grew up in Anchorage.”
But finding the time to build strong relationships between members of the force and the streets they serve can be tricky. The department is deeply understaffed, according to the APD employees’ association and a 2010 study by the Police Executive Research Forum, and the shortage ripples through the department and into Anchorage neighborhoods.
“We’d really like to have enough officers that we could be proactive in the community, and make connections with people, and show them that we’re not just here to show up with lights and sirens and take people away in handcuffs,” Nolder said.
The National Night Out festivities give officers a chance to show off another side of the department, the sergeant said.
Sitting in the shade behind the church Tuesday evening, Lorenzo G. said he brought his family to the block party to enjoy a fun night out. After growing up in East Anchorage, he said he’s seen a definite change in the neighborhood over the years. It feels safer now, he said. It helps when uniformed police officers show up to hand out stickers to kids at a summer block party.
“You know how people grow up – everybody has that in their head that cops are bad, cops are gonna stop you from doing things, they’re gonna do this to you, they’re gonna do that to you, and really they’re just out here doing their job, just like everybody else is out here doing theirs,” he said. “I think it’s good that they have stuff going on like this, where they have the cops interact with everybody.”
At the block party, Lorenzo saw kids from his own neighborhood and people he grew up with. Several hundred people came through over the course of the evening. It was good to have a place where a community could get together and enjoy a summer evening, he said. It was good to have a place where kids could come and play and eat a hamburger and listen to music with their friends in the sunshine. He wished it happened more often.
“Growing up here, it was so boring,” Lorenzo said. “So we got in trouble, we did stuff we weren’t supposed to do: Like I used to go out at night just to get chased by the cops, ‘cause I knew that it was curfew time.”
He wants things to be different for his own kids. Sgt. Nolder, who graduated from East High School, said he wants things to be different, too.
“We really want to make the community better through partnerships,” he said. “We just need more people to do it.”