By Wil Crews
The Opelika Police Department held a press conference Monday morning and a number of community leaders spoke about the progress of the “Together, Opelika” campaign that was launched last October.
“Our hope is to have everyone in Opelika truly come together and work as one,” Police Chief Shane Healey said.
Upon its inception, the campaign’s main goals were to lower crime and increase community engagement. At the press conference, Healey was delighted to report that there has been a decrease in robberies and thefts compared to previous years and an increase in community involvement with crime prevention and assistance in solving crimes.
“Our department has attended over 75 community events and meetings since October of 2020,” Healey said. “We have been developing new ways to engage and educate citizens and through our increased participation within the community we have started to see trust build for our officers.”
While the city and its police have undertaken numerous community involvement projects, the main talking points throughout the meeting, which were centered around a community engagement model developed with the help of Critical Insights Consulting, LLC, were the need for better relationship building, stronger trust and education within the community.
Healey stated that the police department is utilizing the community’s feedback and optimizing every tool at their disposal in order to have a more accurate accountability for officer training and development. Healey divulged that, so far, the OPD officers have conducted 4,000 hours of training in 2021 and hope to quadruple the training hours required by the state.
Furthermore, Capt. Tony Amerson, community relations and special services captain and the police department’s liaison to the community, explained how the department plans to implement the model within Opelika’s neighborhoods. Amerson said he is working with the Ambassadors of Change Council to install two community liaisons from each ward to better understand the concerns and needs of each respective portion of the Opelika community. Ward 2 community members Sherry Cook Welch and Oscar Penn have already signed on.
“This right here is just the beginning,” Amerson said. “The community liaisons can definitely help me come up with different ideas and we will devote all our time to making Opelika great.”
Amerson and Healey then both spoke on the importance of educating the youth in the community, changing the perception youth have of the police and what the department is already working on to do just that.
According to Amerson, the police department and several officers will be attending the annual Black Male Summit, hosted by the Dream Day Foundation, on June 12, to speak on traffic enforcement and court proceedings.
“Basically what we are going to try to hit on is the simple things. Try to train these youths on when to get out of the car when to stay in the car,” Amerson said. “Some of the important incidents that you are seeing in the news today, we are going to cover those things and give them some options.”
Additionally, Amerson also announced other activities such as a flag football event, the 20 Under 20 Police Explore Academy, which aims to teach youth to want to be like police officers, and a fall education program called “Policing and Me,” which will partner with the Opelika Schools Board to provide education to high schoolers on police procedures.
“It’s not about us anymore, it’s about the kids,” Amerson said.
Finally, the department announced the release of their new smart phone application, which will serve the community and the police department by providing information quickly and efficiently and allow users to: submit a tip, search Opelika’s most wanted, view the latest news and press releases, connect to posts from OPD’s social media accounts, view sex offenders in the area and more.
For more information on the Together, Opelika campaign, visit opelikapd.org.