Neighborhood police building connections to increase protection

Beneficial relationships develop between NPOs, residents they serve

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

Neighborhood police

For more information about the neighborhood police officers, including contact information for the NPO in your neighborhood, visit the city's neighborhood policing page.

When the Vancouver Police Department created a new position in 2007, one that aimed at working closely with residents, Charlie Ford was reluctant to apply.

"I didn't start out my career thinking I would be in a position like that," Cpl. Ford said. "I was thinking I'd catch bad guys."

But something about the job description appealed to him, and he applied. He won the job and became one of the first four neighborhood police officers.

Now, after about six years of working closely with east Vancouver residents, Ford has switched out of the position and handed over the reins to Cpl. Jim Burgara.

"I enjoyed the position," Ford said. "You're not just pulling up in a patrol car and handing out some information really quick and storming off to the next radio call."

The neighborhood police officer program carves the city into four sectors and assigns one officer to each area. That officer attends neighborhood association meetings and is someone to whom residents can turn with public safety concerns.

Ford said that some people are intimidated by the idea of making a police report or talking to a police officer.

Through the program, Ford said, "people had a face, they had a name."

"They know, 'I can call Ford and he'll have an answer,'" he said. "It was a nice bridge between the community and the police department."

Before Ford switched to patrol in January, the Wildwood and Lewis & Clark Woods neighborhood associations got together and honored his work by planting a new tree in Wildwood Park and dedicating it to him.

"It was a tribute to Cpl. Ford, but it's really a tribute to all of the police officers," said Kelly Bolan, chair of the Lewis & Clark Woods Neighborhood Association. "It's saying thank you, that we appreciate all that law enforcement does for us."

She said that people especially appreciate having the neighborhood police officers as a way to connect to other resources. Ford said that he resolved a lot of issues by simply listening and by sharing ideas used in other neighborhoods.

When there's an issue between neighbors, Bolan said that "people look at them as Switzerland because they have nothing vested other than people's safety."

"They're real people, and you develop that relationship with them," she said. "They definitely protect our neighborhood, and I definitely feel good about that."

Bolan said she has met Burgara is excited to work with him.

"Cpl. Burgara is very personable too, and I think he's going to be very well welcomed," Bolan said. "Obviously he has big shoes to fill."

Cpl. Drue Russell also switched out of the NPO position at the beginning of the year and was replaced by Cpl. Neil Martin.

Martin will take over Russell's duties of working with people who live in neighborhoods in west and central Vancouver.

Martin said he applied for the position because he saw it as a opportunity to work with people in a constructive way.

"Hopefully, we can solve some conflicts before they turn into a situation that a patrol officer needs to respond to," he said.

Martin said Russell, who also held the position since the program's inception, was very well liked among the residents. Martin said he's reached out to most of the members of the neighborhood associations and is receiving a warm reception.

"Change is scary for some people," he said. "But I'm letting them know that there's still someone here to listen to their concerns."

Ride along with a NPO