Police say community outreach is key

  • Northampton police officer Ryan Tellier walks on the sidewalk down Main Street Friday afternoon. The community outreach officer plays a key role in the department’s effort to ensure the community feels safe, says Police Chief Jody Kasper. Andrew J. Whitaker

  • Officer Ryan Tellier walks along the sidewalk while on duty Friday afternoon, July 8, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Jenn Manson, left, an employee from Faces talks with Officer Ryan Tellier, right, while on duty Friday afternoon, July 8, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Officer Ryan Tellier and Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper investigate a call Friday afternoon, July 8, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Officer Ryan Tellier talks to Mark Chesbro about his dog while walking on duty Friday afternoon, July 8, 2016 in downtown Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Officer Ryan Tellier crosses Main while on duty Friday afternoon, July 8, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Officer Ryan Tellier waits on a corner and watches people while on duty Friday afternoon, July 8, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Officer Ryan Tellier gives his business card to the owner of The Grateful Hound while on duty Friday afternoon, July 8, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Officer Ryan Tellier walks along the sidewalk while on duty Friday afternoon, July 8, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Officer Ryan Tellier listens to his radio after getting a call Friday afternoon, July 8, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • While walking through Faces in downtown Northampton, Officer Ryan Tellier talks to Josh O’Connor, left, Anne O’Connor, center, and Brandon O’Connor, right. Andrew J. Whitaker

  • Officer Ryan Tellier stands in front of the Northampton Police Department duty Friday afternoon, July 8, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

@mjmajchrowicz
Published: 7/8/2016 8:51:30 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Officer Ryan Tellier sat among the 15 or so officers at the 7 a.m. roll call Friday, the somber room noticeably devoid of the usual small talk and friendly chatter about the officers’ families or funny interactions on the beat.

It was less than 12 hours after a gunman trained a sniper rifle on a peaceful protest in Dallas, targeting and killing five police officers and injuring several others.

The Dallas protest, and dozens like it around the country, were spurred after videos showing two black men — one in Louisiana, the other in Minnesota — shot dead by white police officers, reigniting a volatile national conversation about police use of lethal force, particularly during encounters with African-Americans.

Though Northampton Police Captain John Cartledge and his officers were 1,700 miles away from the carnage in Dallas, the distance shrinks when you’re talking about your own.

“We’re so far from Dallas,” he said, “but it feels like it’s next door.”

While these national tragedies leave communities reeling and officials scrambling, Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper said her department does everything it can to ensure the community feels safe and that officers are properly trained. The department also stresses the concept of community policing, which is where Tellier comes in.

After that somber roll call, the officers quietly dispersed, Cartledge recalled. Then, like every other day, Tellier, 33, readied himself to walk the streets of downtown Northampton.

On the streets

About six hours into his shift, Tellier strolled along Main Street — gripping hands, exchanging hellos and checking in with business owners. He knew them, and they knew him. And if they didn’t know him, he made it a point to introduce himself.

Tellier is a community outreach officer and spends much of his days getting to know the community he’s sworn to protect.

From time to time, a store worker who doesn’t recognize Tellier will baulk at his presence in their shop.

They tense up, flash a nervous smile and ask how they can help.

“I hate that — when they see me around and assume something is wrong,” he said. “We want people to feel like they can come up to us. We want to be there for our community.”

As he continued his walking patrol around downtown under the beating sun, Tellier trekked to the front steps on City Hall. There, Mark Chesbro, 55, of Northampton, sat on the same ledge he sat on most days.

“I gotta ask,” Tellier said to Chesbro. “Where is he?”

“He” was Chesbro’s rescue Labrador retriever named Lucky, who is almost never separated from his owner. But the heat was too much for the pup, Chesbro reassured the officer, so he was back at home.

“I was worried for a second,” Tellier told Chesbro.

Tellier and Chesbro made small talk for a few minutes, and the officer said goodbye.

“Hey,” Chesbro said to Tellier as he turned to leave. “I’m behind you guys, man. All this s — that’s going on, it’s horrendous. It just brings more hate.”

The officer smiled and thanked Chesbro, but Chesbro had even more to say:

“Well, it’s kind of tough. You put that uniform on and become a walking target for whatever people want to throw at you,” he said. “So just know someone’s behind you.”

Tellier thanked the man for his support.

Wearing the band again

Back at the station, Kasper pointed to the black and blue elastic strip that was wrapped snugly around her badge Friday morning.

The band, she said, is worn anytime a law enforcement officer anywhere is killed in the line of duty.

“We’ve been wearing them a lot this year,” Kasper said.

Events like this week, she added, perpetuate the idea of an increasingly adversarial relationship between police departments and the African-American community. An idea Kasper and her department so badly want to dispel.

Earlier that morning, a radio host she was tuned into characterized that relationship as a “war.”

“It’s just so disheartening to hear,” Kasper said. “We don’t want to have this ‘war’ with a section of our community or any section of the community ... it’s really opposite of everything we’ve been working for … It’s like one step forward, two steps back.”

So what are some of the measures Northampton police have taken to address concerns that stem from these tragedies?

Kasper said the department has employed methods such as offering de-escalation training, expanded non-lethal weapon options, prioritized diversity in recruitment and continue to use community outreach officers, like Tellier.

“The community wants things fixed, I get that,” Kasper said. “I can honestly admit that, at this point ... I don’t know what else to do to address this problem.”

Michael Majchrowicz can be reached at mmajchrowicz@gazettenet.com or 413-585-5234.




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