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Since the unit’s official inception in March, the Haines City Police Department’s COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) has strived to make a difference.
The purpose of the program is to develop a closer rapport between the community and the department. The unit, overseen by Sgt. Christopher Colon, features two full-time sworn officers, Carlos Dominguez and Kalen Holmes, interacting with and empowering residents throughout different neighborhoods.
The officers work out of the substation in the Oakland neighborhood. One goal of the program is for residents and officers to get to know each other on a first name basis, develop a mutual respect and to work together to alleviate the problems that are unique to the city’s different neighborhoods and communities.
“With this program, our officers will be proactive in making sure that the quality of life is what it should be for all residents of Haines City,” Chief Jim Elensky said. “These officers will let our residents know that we’re on the same team and will be more than willing to listen to their concerns – no matter how small they may seem.”
The unit also has an educational component as the officers are actively involved in mentoring the youth and engaged in different community events. As the program’s officers and residents get to know one another, the agency expects that this unique partnership will help in continuing to push property crime trends downward. The COPS program abides by a problem-solving model that includes identifying issues, setting goals, collecting relevant data, searching for communities with similar problems, creating new interventions, process evaluation and continual analysis.
“Parents sometimes work multiple jobs and odd hours to take care of their families and it’s impossible for them to know exactly where their children are at all hours of the day,” Elensky said. “At-risk youth is an important segment of our population who we’re constantly trying to reach by any means necessary. We want to see the young people in this community grow up to be successful adults and productive members of society.”
On May 4, the unit held its first annual “Bridging the Gap” event, which featured prizes, bounce houses, a dunk tank, food and much more. On June 25, the unit sponsored “Fun with Cops & Crocs” as 45 local children with passing grades were taken to Gatorland Orlando for a day. Roughly 200 people attended “Flip Flops & Cops” at the Lake Eva Aquatic Center on July 12. The unit also plans a back-to-school event for August.
All of the events were or will be funded exclusively through private donations. Vice Mayor Anne Huffman noticed the difference that the program was making and began a craft class for July and August where all proceeds will be donated to COPS programs.
“As a public servant, you give a lot of your time, but I also wanted to give my talents,” Huffman said. “I saw the need in the community and I am really impressed with what the COPS unit is doing and saw this as a way to help.”