Inflatable bounce castles, carnival games and free lunch along the Ashley River — this was the scene of the Charleston Police Department’s latest community outreach effort.
The Breaking Down Barriers event at Brittlebank Park was hosted by the department’s Community Action Teams 1 and 4, which are based in downtown and West Ashley, respectively. For the 16 officers at Saturday afternoon’s event, the day was an opportunity to connect with the community they serve and foster relationships in a positive, fun environment.
Sgt. Damien Seabrook, of Team 1, worked with Sgt. Tonnette Mitchell of Team 4, to put on the event. It was the first time two Community Action Teams had hosted an event together.
Though publicized outreach efforts like the event are important, Seabrook says daily acts of kindness are at the center of their work.
“There’ve been countless officers who’ve bought food for homeless people,” he said. “We don’t publicize it. This is basically our job.”
In addition to the carnival games and other activities, there were opportunities for youth to get Kids and Cops Buddy Cards signed, Seabrook said. Children ask an officer to sign the card, and the officer has an opportunity to strike up a conversation or give some advice.
Senior Police Officer Matt Greenleaf has been with Team 1 for six years and with the department for 10 years.
Being a part of the team offers a unique policing experience, Greenleaf said.
“I get a change to really stop ... The permanent residents, I know their faces,” he said.
About an hour into the event, Greenleaf said he’d already had a number of interesting interactions.
“There were some positive questions and some negative questions, but most are just curious,” he said.
That curiosity is key because it offers a chance to start a constructive conversation and begin making connections with residents, Greenleaf said.
Activities aside, the event also featured 200 chicken sandwiches donated by Chick-fil-A, water and sodas donated by Coca-Cola, gift cards and five bicycles up for raffle. Those in attendance received leis and cups embossed with police logos.
Charleston-based Carolina Studios also came to the event, bringing a mobile recording studio housed inside an old school bus. The studio featured stations where people could create beats on iMac computers, and a fully enclosed room at the back of the bus where anyone could record a track and take it home on a CD.
Andy Whetsell, a 45-year-old Charleston resident, came to the event with his two sons, 5-year-old Elias and 9-year-old Ian.
Coming out and showing support for police was more important than ever because of recent fatal attacks on police officers, Whetsell said. He wanted to show his sons that police are not a negative force.
Charleston resident Jeanette Tolbert said she came out to the event to support the officers, including her sister who is a member of Team 1.
“I see they’re trying to pull together, get people to get in touch with one another,” Tolbert said.
Building a positive relationship between Charleston police and residents is an ongoing effort, she said. In order to be successful, police need to continue their outreach work and be consistent.
“The more they do it, they’ll build relationships,” Tolbert said. “More people need to know about it.”
Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.