This old police strategy, once common within all cities, still works, as this example, adding a priest to the walk (wow), from Our Sunday Visitor, reports.

An excerpt.

Two police officers and a priest walk into a liquor store.

It sounds like the start of a colorful joke. Instead, it is part of a policing initiative that aims to involve the whole community, including spiritual leaders, in reducing crime in troubled Springfield, Mass.

Building trust

Father Yerick Mendez, a priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Springfield, regularly joins state and local police officers as they walk through the North End neighborhood of the city, knocking on doors and greeting citizens on the street, in restaurants or in liquor stores.

“I think sometimes people don’t know what to make of us,” he said. “People don’t know whether they should be afraid or come say, ‘Hello.’”

In a neighborhood where gang members were known to ride mini-scooters with assault rifles strapped to their backs, building trust has been no easy task for law enforcement.

Massachusetts State Trooper Michael Cutone saw something familiar about the situation. He had previously served in the National Guard Special Forces, commonly called the Green Berets, employing counterinsurgency measures in Avghani, Iraq.

There, he witnessed insurgents taking advantage of corruption, disorder and poverty in a community.

They operated under the cover of greater societal disorder and used fear to intimidate locals.

Take back the streets

Though it was not a war zone, some residents of Springfield told Cutone they felt like prisoners in their own homes.

He wanted to empower them to take back the streets, but first he had to gain their trust. That took time — more than a year, in fact.

Four years ago, the police officers began by attending a weekly community meeting where residents and decision-makers gathered.

Then, they started patrolling door-to-door. When residents saw their commitment last for months, trust began building and crime tips started flooding in.

Earlier this year, an analysis revealed that since the initiative’s implementation, violent crime has dropped by 25 percent and drug crimes by nearly 50 percent. There is also less litter and gang graffiti.

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