How to police from the heart in your community
Every day cops see people who need a helping hand beyond traditional policing services
By Nick Borges, P1 Contributor
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Seaside, California, is located on the central coast of the Monterey Peninsula. The peninsula is known for its beautiful beach fronts, world-renowned golf courses and being home to legendary actor, producer and director Clint Eastwood. However, the Monterey Peninsula is not all glamour and swank. At the center of the peninsula is a small town with a population of about 34,000 called Seaside.
The City of Seaside was incorporated in 1954. Through the years, this diverse community has had a history of gang violence and drug activity. There is no other area in Seaside more infamous for contributing to the city’s reputation during the late 1960s and well into the 1990s than the Del Monte Manor, the largest low-income housing development on the peninsula.
In the early 2000s, veteran Seaside police officers would share stories about the violence and tension between residents of the Del Monte Manor and police. One police sergeant would say, “We could not go into that complex without at least three cops. Residents would throw bottles at us and sometimes even shoot at us.”
The Del Monte Manor has been featured in numerous local gangster rap videos as a legendary landmark showcasing Seaside’s dangerous history and reputation.
Fast forward to 2016
A police officer who patrols the area of the Del Monte Manor each day stops alongside the roadway and observes young children playing on a rundown playground surrounded by sand. The officer has his window down and hears a mother shout out to her young son, “Don’t play in there too long, I don’t want to get fleas in the house again.”
This could have been the end of the cop’s observation. Fortunately, it was the beginning of something remarkable.
The officer got out of his patrol car and began asking questions. “How long has this park been here? Why isn’t there a nicer playground for the kids to play in?” The answers were shocking. The City of Seaside had donated second-hand equipment over 35 years ago. While the City’s gesture was commendable, the equipment was inadequate from the start. Generations of kids grew up playing on the same subpar playground equipment. The big metal slide had seen its share of crying kids falling off the uneven slide.
Perhaps the most important thing the officer discovered was that a playground committee had just been formed by Del Monte Manor residents.
Policing beyond the badge
The police officer wanted the entire Seaside Police Department to get behind the residents and help them acquire a new playground. The residents were hesitant. There was still a sense of distrust toward the police. It was not common to have the police at the Del Monte Manor for anything short of a service call pertaining to a tense or negative situation.
However, the residents knew a new playground would be a budgetary challenge so they were looking for a helping hand to proceed with their plans. From that moment, the group of residents and police officers would be known as the Del Monte Manor Coalition.
In 2017, the Seaside Police Department partnered with the Seaside Fire Department to organize a fundraising event at the Del Monte Manor. Although the event only raised about $1000, the barriers broken proved priceless.
Since the event, Seaside officers attended weekly meetings, assisted in grant writing, collected donations and helped make the right connections to keep the project alive. Earlier this year, the Del Monte Manor Coalition raised more than $60,000 to fund the entire playground renovation. The City of Seaside Public Works Department lent a hand and contracted services to have all the old equipment removed at no cost.
Today, the playground is fully installed and landscaped. At its grand opening in January, officers played basketball with the kids, barbecued hotdogs and honored the community for coming together for the project. The playground signifies much more than just an area where kids will play and make memories; it is a symbol for the community that anything is possible when we unite. The relationship developed between the residents and the Seaside Police Department is perhaps one of the most significant side effects that no one could have anticipated two years earlier.
Police officers spend hours patrolling neighborhoods all across the United States. They see people every day who need a helping hand beyond the traditional policing services. When a community unites, great things can happen.
About the Author
Nick Borges is a deputy chief with the Seaside Police Department. He has been with the department for 16 years and has served as a field training officer, detective, corporal, sergeant, commander, deputy chief and SWAT commander.