A model for Graham

Graham police chief Kristi Cole said this week that her department has been analyzing call data and “drilling down to types of calls,” particularly those involving “significant crimes” and “crimes against persons” occurring in specific areas of the city (see related story, this edition).

Graham police chief Mary (“Kristi”) Cole

Analyzing that data is part of the department’s broader effort to develop a proactive, community policing-based approach to policing, Cole explained in an interview with The Alamance News.

It’s also one way that a small police department can stretch its resources to ensure the safety of the 17,157 people who call Graham home, based on the latest (2020) U.S. Census population estimates. The department’s total staff of 40 includes the chief, assistant chief, 20 patrol officers, five patrol captains, supervisors, and administrative support employees, Cole told the newspaper.

At the same time, Graham’s police department is faced with a confluence of challenges that include rapid residential growth and pockets of the population who are openly hostile to police.

“We are trying to reorient our practices toward community policing” and working with citizens to prevent crime, rather than simply responding once a crime has already taken place, Cole said Tuesday in an interview with The Alamance News.

Graham used to have a dedicated community-policing unit, but those positions were later absorbed by the patrol division under a different chief, who “wanted community policing activities to spread” department-wide, Cole recalled this week.

Cole’s working to resurrect that approach to public safety. To that end, the department added two new community policing positions in January. Cole said that Graham’s city council had funded those positions in the budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, and she agreed to fill them in January (the midpoint in the fiscal year) in order to minimize the financial impact.

Four more community policing positions are being advertised, which will be funded by a five-year grant the department obtained, Cole said, adding that she’s eager to fill those openings as soon as possible.

At the same time, supervisors within the department had been in the process of planning a town hall to meet with residents at The Pines and surrounding areas, in hopes of proactively working together to rid the area of violent crime. The department had used resources such as preliminary phone surveys – of people who’ve previously filed reports or complaints with the department, said assistant police chief R.S. King.

“We need the community to help get involved,” King said in an interview Tuesday. “We are looking to recruit volunteers” rather than relying solely on having a strong police presence in areas with larger proportions of violent crime, he said.

“This will be a model for Graham,” King said, referring to the efforts to establish community policing in the city.

Community-based policing is part of what The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) have identified as “best practices” in law enforcement, Cole elaborated.

Identifying “hot spots” for crime – i.e., specific areas, such as The Pines, which have the highest reports for violent crime and what Cole calls “crimes against persons” – is part of the process of analyzing call data and targeting the department’s resources, she said.