Community policing, designed to forge stronger bonds between law enforcement and the communities they protect and serve, has seen a renewed interest as a way to build trust and reduce racial tensions in cities across America.
Among those recognizing its importance is South Pasadena Police Chief Joe Ortiz, whose strategy of policing focuses on building close ties between officers and residents.
As civil unrest continues in cities throughout the U.S. — sparked by the death of a black man in Minneapolis police custody, which touched off demonstrations nationwide — Ortiz has closely monitored the actions of protesting, torching cars, smashing windows and defacing buildings while vowing South Pasadena is safe.
Like millions, he has watched the death of George Floyd on May 25 when the handcuffed 46-year-old was killed in Minneapolis by Derek Chauvin after the white officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” Fellow officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Kiernan Lane assisted in restraining Floyd while officer Tou Thao kept onlookers at a short distance. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder while the three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
In the wake of incidents all over the country involving the use of force, Ortiz was asked about his officers’ efforts in establishing positive police-community relationships. “The South Pasadena Police Department’s (SPPD) mission is to preserve public safety and quality of life within the City of South Pasadena, to respond effectively to the changing needs of the community, and to promote mutual respect between the Police Department and the people we serve,” he said.
Peaceful protests, anti-racism demonstrations, free of violence, have been held in parts of South Pasadena since the Floyd incident.
Ortiz stressed the department’s primary concern is community safety, noting: “The men and women of the South Pasadena Police Department are committed to keeping our neighborhoods free from crime. From the officers on patrol to the officers in our schools teaching children, from the Chief to the newest rookie officer… we all maintain a strong spirit of commitment and service to the South Pasadena community. In return, the department appreciates a very high level of community support, without which we would not be as successful as we are.”
Community policing by the South Pasadena Police Department begins daily, stressed Ortiz, with a commitment to “building trust and mutual respect between police and our community,” he said. “It is critical to public safety, ensuring that all stakeholders work together to address our biggest, crime challenges. When police and communities collaborate, they address underlying issues more effectively, change negative behavioral patterns, and allocate resources. Building trust with the community is fundamental to effective policing. Sound conduct by police improves community interactions, enhances communication, and promotes shared responsibility for addressing crime and disorder.”
Ortiz looks to community education programs to offer a platform for law enforcement and community members to develop positive working relationships in building “enduring solutions and increase(ing) trust between the police and the public,” he said, explaining that over the years, the South Pasadena Police Department has developed several community outreach programs to enhance officer and public relationships, including a Teen Academy, Citizens Police Academy, Coffee with a Cop, women’s self defense classes, and crime prevention tips provided through its Neighborhood Watch Program.
“In addition to reaching out to our residents, the department routinely connects with our unhoused neighbors in the city,” explained Ortiz, addressing the homeless situation in town. “We work closely with Pasadena Union Station, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, Los Angeles Homeless Authority, and Holy Family Church, to provide resources and much-needed shelter. Our officers have a good working relationship with this community, fostering trust and safety to this often forgotten population.”
He said trust between law enforcement agencies and citizens – housed or unhoused – is essential in any municipality. “It is key to our communities’ stability, the integrity of our criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing services,” insisted Ortiz. “Trust is earned, not given.”