SPD to launch neighborhood initiative

Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

Police Chief Frank Nichols is asking Starkville officers to build deeper connections with residents to promote community-oriented policing throughout the city.

Officers—excluding the investigations and narcotics units—will be required to interact with different neighborhood residents and business owners while on patrol through the "Walk and Talk" initiative.

"I want our officers to get out in the neighborhoods, businesses and schools 15 minutes a day, and the idea is to intermingle with residents on different occasions other than being called out there," Nichols said.

SPD officers will log out with the dispatcher and let department heads know they're out participating in the initiative, Nichols said.

Willing residents will be asked to take pictures with the officers they interact with, to be posted on SPD's social media accounts to showcase the initiative.

"It will increase our presence online but get people involved," Nichols said. "It will benefit Starkville as a whole."

Nichols got the idea from a classmate at the FBI academy after seeing how the Boca Raton Police Department used social media as a platform for building community ties.

"They started it a few years ago and he and I talked about it," Nichols said. "It's geared towards everyone. We want to be more involved in the community."

The popular "Coffee With A Cop" events co-sponsored by SPD and the Citizens Police Academy have brought another aspect of community engagement to the department, Nichols said.

The events start at 7 a.m. on the first Thursday of every month at various coffee shops, restaurants and businesses across Starkville.

The new push for community involvement coincides with the department officially welcoming five new officers to the force, brining the department's total to 60 sworn personnel, the most SPD's had in 15 years, Nichols said.

"It's good to have the new officers now," Nichols said. "It feels good to see our ranks growing and it's good that the officers are buying into the community-oriented policing program."

The new officer positions were secured through a U.S. Justice Department Assistance grant that was approved last year. Two new hires will work with DUI enforcement and three will work with the community-oriented policing unit.

Through the federal funding option, law enforcement agencies across the country can apply for annual grant funding ranging from new equipment, additional officers and overtime coverage. In fiscal year 2014, the program awarded almost $280 million nationally.

The new officers will help boost the interactions between officers and residents, Nichols said.

"It helps the whole community in general whenever everyone is on the same page and they know what we expect of them, and we know what they expect from us while providing service to them," Nichols said.