Amidst nationwide polls showing a decline in public trust, police departments in the East Bay are finding new, and sometimes unique, ways to try and connect with their communities.
Perhaps one of the more trendy ideas comes from the Pleasanton Police Department, where a series of trading cards featuring the images of its officers will be made available to the city's youth.
The 41 collectible cards will be handed out at kid-friendly events sponsored by the department. In keeping with the theme of targeting younger residents, all card giveaways will be announced via the department’s social media accounts, according to Shannon Revel-Whitaker, a crime prevention officer.
The department tried using trading cards as a way to familiarize youth and police in the early aughts, but this is the first time they’ve incorporated a collection game, she said.
“It came about because another officer here, a school resource officer, suggested the idea as we sat down to talk about furthering engagement,” she said.
When all the cards have been collected, kids can enter for a chance to ride along with an officer during the Hometown Holiday Parade, among other prizes. Collector's game boards, which resemble posters and show pictures of all 41 cards, can be picked up at the front desk of the department office.
In other parts of the East Bay, programs that are designed to diminish adversarial relationships between police and community members have become routine.
Typically, each program is geared towards placing officers in an approachable environment: Pittsburg has its upcoming “Chips and Dip with a Cop” event on Sept. 29; Martinez hosts sit-downs with police over coffee, and in Richmond, officers swapped their uniforms for chef’s aprons during a barbecue and voter drive earlier this month.
Pittsburg police captain Ron Raman noted that these events remove the high-stress contexts in which police and community members usually come together.
“If you’re going to a domestic violence call or a violent call, you’re not going to be able to have the same interaction you can when you’re in an environment like Chips with a Cop,” he said. “It changes the officer's focus, and it changes the focus of the people who are there.”
While these types of programs may not be new, more recent installments do come at a significant juncture: The Bay Area is still grappling from a sexual exploitation scandal that rocked several police departments, and debates over officers’ use of force has sparked numerous protests around the country.
Research has also shown levels of waning trust: A nationwide Gallup poll found that confidence in law enforcement is the lowest it has been in 22 years.
Public information officers from both the Pittsburg and Pleasanton police departments were quick to point out that their community programs were not designed in response to scandals or nationwide events. Instead, both said they were hopeful that these new programs would strengthen already existing ties within the community.
“Whether or not police are in the media and are shown in a positive or negative light, we are always looking for opportunities to connect with our community,” Revel-Whitaker said.
Gillian Edevane covers Contra Costa County for the digtal team. Contact her at Gillian.Edevane@NBCuni.com or follow her on twitter @GillianNBC.