Police say more residents are talking to them about blight, drivers who ignore stop signs and other neighborhood problems since the department created a new position.
Officer Ted Branon is the community service officer, a job he started in September. Through daily conversations with students, seniors, business owners and other constituents, Branon has helped police gain allies, department spokesman Lt. Joshua Litwin said.
"Word has started to get out," Litwin said, and representatives of churches and other organizations have been seeking meetings with Branon.
"We quickly found our schedule full for the next six months," Litwin said.
A 22-year department veteran, Branon, 45, has experience in patrol, traffic and narcotics and was detached for seven years to work with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. He is the sole community service officer, a job added to the budget for the current fiscal year. In his 2016 message from the chief, Chief Scott Sansom said the position "is designed to elevate the quality of life in our neighborhoods."
"No police department can solve crime or quality of life issues alone," Sansom wrote. "Effective community police relationships, communications and engagement are critical components to our success."
East Hartford police answer about 34,000 calls each year, Litwin said, so patrol officers typically do not have much extra time for community service outreach. Officers, however, do volunteer to participate in programs that Branon has organized.
He recently brought a national program called "Coffee With A Cop," to the Dunkin' Donuts on Main Street, and he's scheduled a similar gathering called "Sandwich With A Cop," set for Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Subway, 309 Ellington Road. In both programs, residents are invited to ask questions and relay concerns to police officers. Branon and Litwin say they want people to get to know the cops who serve them.
Branon also plans to launch a basketball program for local kids in June, and he's thinking about an identification program for elderly residents suffering from dementia and similar ailments who may wander off with no warning. Working with family members, Branon said, police would gather and store vital statistics, photographs and even credit card numbers to help find a missing person. His job, Branon said, is to build positive relationships with all members of the community.
The department had six to eight community police officers in the 1990s, he said, but those jobs were funded by a federal grant and when the money dried up, the positions were eliminated. Scheduling programs, block watches and meetings, listening to people's concerns and answering their questions takes time, and ideally, Litwin said, the community service program would be expanded. More funds, however, are not available, he said.