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Cops with Hearts bring community together


Officer Eric Fernandez stands next to a teacher at the 3 for Free camp with local youth

"I see what you are doing in the neighborhood and it's great! Keep up the good work. You are the cops with hearts."

Those words from an Olneyville, Rhode Island, resident brought tears to the eyes of the coordinators of the Olneyville Community and Police Alliance (CAPA) when they realized their hard work over the past two years was taking hold.

Olneyville is one of most economically challenged communities in Providence. Forty-one percent of its residents live in poverty. Latinos comprise more than 65 percent of the neighborhood, and almost half the population is foreign-born. The community is much younger than the state as whole, with 48 percent 18 or younger compared to 28 percent statewide.

A local police officer holds a football next to a local kid wearing a red flagMany residents have a long-standing mistrust of law enforcement—at least, until CAPA was formed with help from a Department of Justice grant to ONE Neighborhood Builders.
"The first time we realized the impact of our community and police partnership was December [2016] during an event called "It's O.N. in Olneyville-Operation Navidad." Providence police, community partners, resident leaders and ONE Neighborhood Builders staff loaded police cars and trucks with presents and personally delivered them to neighborhood children," explains Tina Shepard, director of community initiatives for ONE Neighborhood Builders.

It was while delivering presents door to door that the resident approached the officers with her words of encouragement. Since that time, every community event has featured "cops with hearts" – a core group of a dozen Providence police officers.

Also sponsored by the group was a "3 for Free sports camp" for youth age 5-16 during spring vacation, featuring football, basketball and soccer, all organized and coached by police officers and residents. Another event was the "Summer Safety Slam," comparable to National Night Out, which brought residents and police officers together for a night of games, food, music and dancing.

Office Tracie Miller and Lt. Richard Fernandes stand behind Olneyville youth holding up a "celebrate" signJust before Thanksgiving, "Cooking for the Community" was held with a local restaurant that opened its doors to provide free meals. With Providence police and community partners cooking, prepping and serving the meals, more than 150 individuals came together for a feast.

Last summer, ONE Neighborhood Builders surveyed 200 residents in three targeted "hot spots" and found that now:
  • 65 percent strongly agree or agree that "citizens feel comfortable working with the police."
  • 62 percent strongly agree or agree that "in the past year, Providence police have shown more concern about my neighborhood."
"But while we have collected quantitative data validating the positive perceptions of police in Olneyvillle, it has been the anecdotal successes that have warmed the hearts of all involved," says Shepherd. "When a child runs up to a police officer and calls him or her by name, when residents plan an event specifically to show officers their support, or when an officer takes a grant-writing course with the hope of enhancing community policing initiatives in Olneyville, these incidents remind us that the work we are doing truly makes a difference in everyone's lives."

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