A $1.8 million federal grant recently awarded to the Arlington Police Department will fund 15 new officers and promote positive community relationships — essential when problems arise, according to the department.
The money is part of the COPS Hiring Program, a project of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The federal office provides grants for state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to hire or rehire officers and provides salaries and benefits for three years.
The 15 new Arlington officers being funded through the grant will come from the Arlington Police Academy’s 50th class, which started training Jan. 19.
In announcing the grant last fall, Police Chief Will Johnson said the partnership with the COPS hiring program “is instrumental in advancing public safety in our community.” Arlington police had funding for 627 officers before the grant came in.
Community policing is a natural part of the department’s focus on “procedural justice,” said Lt. Christopher Cook, the department’s chief spokesman. Procedural justice involves building awareness about the work that police officers do in the community and empowering residents to promote public safety, he said.
“It takes boots on the ground to really have time to have these relationships. If you’re strapped on staffing, you’re running from call to call to call, and there’s not a lot of time to interact with your businesses, your community groups, your residents. Additional staffing allows for time to build those relationships,” Cook said.
In its application for the grant, the Police Department cited “a number of activist groups” such as Cop Watch Arlington and Open Carry Tarrant County that had shot video of conflicts with officers in 2014 and 2015 and placed them online. The application said more officers on the street would help the city rebuild and restore trust in the department by giving police more time for “proactive policing,” including involvement in activities such as youth outreach programs and crime prevention strategizing.
Cook said the department has been working to reorganize staffing to match peaks in demand so that officers are deployed in the right areas at the right times. To that end, a pilot program started in 2016 has officers in the city’s south and west police districts working four 10-hour shifts, instead of the traditional five eight-hour shifts. The change creates overlaps and decreases overtime, he said.
One of the community groups that department officials point to as a success is the Arlington Clergy and Police Partnership, or ACAPP. ACAPP allows clergy from all denominations to interact with police and participate in an academy where all facets of the department are explained. Burton Purvis, senior pastor at White Stone Fellowship in southwest Arlington, is an ACAPP board member.
He said the academy classes and riding along with officers give the pastors a perspective on the police that he’s happy to share with others in the community.
“To see them respond to adversarial people with professionalism and quality on a daily basis is an amazing thing to observe. … I want people to know our police, especially in Arlington, are outstanding,” Purvis said.
He said sharing his experience is especially important given recent national attention to situations involving police officers. Purvis said strong connections between police and pastors helped diffuse tension after an Arlington officer fatally shot Christian Taylor, a 19-year-old Angelo State University football player, during a suspected burglary at a car dealership in August.
Trust between the community and police is essential, Purvis said.
“If you know somebody, then you’re going to have a better chance of being able to communicate and work with them than if you don’t know them,” he said.