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FPD’s Community Services Bureau thrives at strengthening police-community relations

FPD’s Community Services Bureau thrives at strengthening police-community relations

The cadet had just handed over paperwork — application, waiver form — to the man at the counter who had requested a ridealong when Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes walked by, rushing to get to an appointment.

From one side of the counter in the Community Services Bureau (CSB) of the FPD, cadet Alexander Lopez, 22, stood rigid straight as he greeted Hughes, who took a moment to chat with Lopez.

Hughes told Lopez he also served as a cadet in the CSB — an assignment Lopez got a couple of months ago after first serving, as all cadets do, in Records.

“I remember going to speak to kindergarten classes,” Hughes told Lopez. “I was scared to death of all those kids, but it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had: interacting with the community and all that involves.”

And with that, Hughes captured the essence of the mission of the CSB: maintaining police-community relations through a variety of programs and outreach efforts.

“They (CSB) do a lot more than most people think,” Hughes said. “It’s amazing all of the things they do.”

Run by Sgt. Kathryn Hamel, whose numerous duties include serving as the FPD’s public information officer, the Community Services Bureau has a mix of sworn and professional staff that includes three school resource officers (SROs), a community services officer (CSO), a community liaison officer (CLO), Cadet Lopez, who works part time, and more than two dozen members of RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol).

“Our mission is to reach every segment of our community, demonstrate responsiveness – and, most importantly, engender public trust and confidence,” said Hamel, who in mid-July will rotate out of the CSB to Property Crimes after running the CSB for two years.

Sgt. Jon Radus will replace Hamel, who said one of her favorite projects was establishing, in February 2016, a four-person social media team that keeps Fullerton residents up to date on police news 24/7.

“In addition to schools, community events and outreach, our community’s desire to communicate with the Fullerton Police Department via social media has grown exponentially since 2014,” Hamel said.

Before he transferred to CSB a couple of months ago, Lopez said his impression of what the unit did mainly involved SROs.

After all, two of the unit’s three SROs, Cpl. Gabriela “Gaby” Soto and Officer Andrew Coyle, also serve as explorer advisors. Lopez was an FPD explorer from 2011 to 2015.

The Community Services Bureau, Lopez since has learned, is much more complex than that.

But the SROs are a good place to start.

Soto, a nine-year FPD veteran, just started her fourth year as a school resource officer.

She’s assigned to Fullerton High.

“I like working with kids and being able to make some impact in their lives,” Soto said. “It’s important that they see a different side of police so they’re not afraid of us.”

Soto said she often finds herself informally counseling students, in addition to making sure they aren’t breaking the law or any school regulations.

“A lot of these kids, unfortunately, don’t have any other adults they can talk to,” Soto said.

Coyle has spent the last two years of his 10-year career at the FPD as an SRO.

Like Soto and the CSB’s third SRO, Officer Michael Yang, Coyle, who is assigned to Troy High School, Coyle enjoys interacting with youth and “showing them that we are regular people.”

Said Coyle: “You see a group (of students) and talk about things they’re into or hop on a skateboard and do a trick, and that opens them up to you.”

In addition to Troy High School, the largest in Fullerton, Coyle is assigned to La Vista & La Sierra High School, a continuation school that covers the cities of Fullerton, Buena Park and La Habra.

“We SROs are on campuses to keep schools safe and deal with any issues that come up — not always things that are unlawful,” Coyle said. “We interact with kids so they aren’t afraid to talk to us.”

Yang has a year under his belt as an SRO assigned to Sunny Hills High School.

He recalls having been influenced by an SRO when he was in high school.

“He was a good role model and had a good impact on me academically,” Yang said.

“I enjoy being able to get to work with kids and mold them, especially those who are interested in becoming police officers when they grow up.”

The CSB’s three SROs also perform numerous other functions, such as following up on juveniles who have committed crimes and participating in such annual events as the FPD’s Open House, the Tip-a-Cop fundraiser for the Special Olympics and Shop with a Cop, to name a few.

“Being in (the Community Services Bureau) allows us to become a lot more connected with the general public,” Yang said, “and with the current view of policing being mostly negative, this provides us with an opportunity to be viewed in a positive light.”

There currently are 26 participants in the CSB’s Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol, a program coordinated by 30-year FPD veteran Juanita Juarez, the CSO in the Community Services Bureau.

The RSVPs, who also serve other FPD units, do such things as check on homes of residents who tell the PD they are going on vacation; sign up individuals on the Return Home Registry, which includes information about Fullerton residents diagnosed with dementia, autism or another often debilitating condition to help cops find them should they go missing; patrol in areas where there’s a spike in crime to give the PD increased visibility; help people at the FPD front desk and at virtually all community events; and direct traffic to free up cops to do other work.

Besides coordinating RSVP, Juarez wears many other hats.

“I have the best job in the department,” said Juarez, who manages the majority of the programs that are run by the CSB, including Neighborhood Watch, the Citizen’s Academy, Tip-a-Cop, the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics and National Night Out, in addition to community events and community meetings as well as church and school carnivals.

“The best part is that I get to interact with many different groups of people in the city and get to make difference here and there once in a while,” Juarez said.

Juarez sits next to Fullerton native and lifelong resident Lucia Maturino, the unit’s community liaison officer (the CLO and CSO both are non-sworn positions).

Maturino, who is approaching 10 years in the Community Services Bureau, is involved in many programs that involve the Gilbert, Valencia and Garnet Community Centers. She also facilitates the FLY (Fullerton Lifting Youth) program, which provides a 10-week training program to at-risk youth in elementary and junior high schools.

“I’ve always wanted to come back and give back to the community,” said Maturino.

Much of Maturino’s interactions involve building trust between the community and the police.

Before they can trust the police, Maturino said she’s got to get them to trust her.

“Trust is something you build as an individual,” she said, “and then for the organization you work for.”

Part of Maturino’s job involves mentoring kids on a variety of issues, such as being a good role model, being a champion for education and being a responsible citizen.

She also teaches parenting classes and speaks to kids at elementary and middle schools.

“My job is very flexible,” she said.

So, too, is Cadet Lopez’s job.

One of his duties on a recent weekday included washing a patrol car emblazoned with the name of fallen FPD Officer Jerry Hatch ahead of a June 30 remembrance ceremony.

Lopez said he wants to be a cop someday.

He said his experience in the Community Services Bureau is a great step in that direction.

“I enjoy everything about it — it’s awesome,” Lopez said. “We get to work with the community, and I love talking to and meeting new people.”

Behind the Badge OC writer Lou Ponsi contributed to this story.