Local law enforcement relies on community outreach
Madera Chief of Police Steve Frazier hands out stickers at Sierra Vista School during National Night Out last year. (Courtesy of Kathleen Nekumanesh)
The Madera Police Department and the Madera County Sheriff’s Office are taking measures to ensure the safety of Madera and Madera County residents in the wake of recent racially-tinged killings and demonstrations in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas.
Police last week shot to death African-Americans Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, during confrontations.
In Dallas, an African-American sniper shot five police to death Thursday night, and wounded several others. The self-confessed sniper, Micah Xavier Johnson, was blown up by a bomb sent after him aboard a police robot.
According to Madera Police Chief Steve Frazier, the chances of such incidents occurring in Madera are low.
Frazier, however, has recognized that protests are a possibility, especially in the unpredictable work of a law enforcement officer, in which a shooting could take place.
“We already exist at a significant level of awareness. We’re ready for anything to happen at any time,” Frazier said. “You never know when a vehicle stop is going to go sideways, and something bad is going to happen.
“Just because this is occurring across the nation, we maintain a level of awareness that should something come up, we’re ready to deal with that.”
However, the most important step to prepare for an incident, Frazier said, is community outreach. Frazier has stated that the Madera Police Department has made an effort to go out of its way to familiarize the residents of Madera with local law enforcement through such programs as Coffee with a Cop, in which police and Maderans are able to sit and converse monthly over free coffee. They have also made use of the Citizen’s Academy, in which participants learn more on the work, lives, and procedures of a Madera officer.
“It’s a lot more difficult to throw a rock at someone that you know,” Frazier said. “If you know the officers here, and if you’ve established a relationship with them, I think you’re less likely to want to harm them, or cause a problem for them. And that goes both ways. Not only is that for our citizens regarding the law enforcement, but for our law enforcement regarding the citizens.”
“We’re trying to speak to members of the community through Neighborhood Watch, Coffee with a Cop, getting out of our cars and talking with people,” said Madera Police Sgt. Felix Gonzalez. “And we conduct callback surveys, and get people’s opinion.”
According to Frazier, these efforts have been paying off, and the feedback for the department has mostly been positive, as was the case when a town hall meeting was held by Madera police after the shooting last year in Ferguson, Missouri.
“We asked the citizens how they felt about that event, and if they correlated Ferguson with Madera police, and they said they did not,” Frazier said. “That they saw us differently, and that they understood there was a difference.”
Frazier has also stated that if the people of Madera wished to conduct a peaceful demonstration, the police would be willing to cooperate.
“We’ve been putting in a lot of work to create partnerships with this community, and would hope they would work with us if they know something was coming up, that they would talk to us about that, and any organizers would work with us so they could have a peaceful demonstration.”
In the event of a large-scale riot, however, preparations have been made involving cooperation between departments. For example, the Madera Police Department, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, and the Chowchilla Police Department have all worked together to form a SWAT Team for Madera County. The Madera Police Department also looks to keep itself fully staffed. Last month, the department hired four new officers to its roster.
“We’re all excited to get those four local individuals,” said Gonzalez. “We’re all looking forward to them being successful through our program, and getting out of training and getting out on their own.”
In the event of a riot, however, Madera and Madera County are connected to the Law Enforcement Mutual Aid System. The system, which is broken into seven regions across California, can be used to coordinate and pool resources and other agencies in its region in the event of a large-scale emergency.
According to Madera County Sheriff Jay Varney, Madera County is in Region V, which is under the control of Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims. With the system in place, Varney remains confident that Madera police and Madera County sheriff’s deputies would be able to handle a large-scale incident.
“We all know what to do if something like that happens, based on the Mutual Aid System,” Varney said.
Despite the Dallas incident, however, and the demonstrations being carried out in other cities across the country, Madera police remain confident in the trust of their community, and in the emergency systems in place.
“Morale is good,” Gonzalez said. “Everyone is pleased and happy with the way things are going.”