By Hannah Lester
Police Chief Shane Healey said that Opelika is going to change the world — and it’s all going to start with the Opelika Police Department.
“Together, Opelika” was formed in October 2020 — a campaign between the police department and the citizens of the city to build relationships said Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done together and I’m excited about the future,” he said.
This year alone, the police department has participated in 140 community events, from National Night Out to the Game On flag football event.
The department formed a partnership with Critical Insights in May.
“Through our work with Critical Insights, we’ve established four pillars of change,” Healey said. “To build better relationships. To build better trust. To become better educators and to become better communicators. Our hope is by focusing on these four pillars we can better serve our community and the city as a whole.”
Trust and relationships are built through community events and analyzing the data, Healey said.
Education is happening both internally and externally.
“We have been busy,” said Tony Amerson, captain of community relations with OPD. “In order for us to build trust and relationships, we need to do better about educating the community on our policies and procedures.”
There is a program with the municipal court about traffic stops and the courts. The department has also created a ‘citation sticky note’ which has all the information a citizen needs about their citation. When an officer issues a ticket, the sticky note will be attached.
The department has plans for more education in the school system too — from reevaluating the roles of school resource officers to continuing with programs in government in driver’s education at Opelika High School.
“We’re not just talking about hosting events and speaking in classrooms when we talk about becoming better educators,” Healey said. “We’re focusing on internal training too. We’re developing our officers to be certified instructors which allows our department to receive additional training in-house.”
OPD has far exceeded the state-required training. Opelika officers have completed 10,296 hours of training, while only 1,100 are required.
Education also happens through community outreach — such as the OPD app, or community liaisons.
Each ward is set to have two community liaisons.
“The primary role of these liaisons is to listen to their community, to be a voice of their wards and work closely with the ambassador of change,” Amerson said. “We attend monthly meetings to listen, to learn, to engage with each other to see how we can work together to be more effective in our goal.”
Looking into the future, the department will launch a new program in 2022, 20 under 20 Police Explore Academy, which looks to help high schools explore their options in law enforcement.
The Opelika Police Department is not the only group striving for a “Together, Opelika”. The city, community groups, churches, schools and more are all working together for the cause.
“One of the big things that we have seen through this process of working with everybody is we’ve started to see how everybody coming together is having more of an impact on this community,” Healey said.
Healey said that “Together, Opelika” is now a city movement, rather than a police department movement.
“It’s going to continue to grow, it’s going to continue to snowball and we are going to change the world in Opelika, Alabama.”