On a rainy Saturday morning, the McKinney Police Department wasn’t sure if it would be able to meet with residents to go on a bike ride.
The department had been previewing its Bikin’ with the Blue event for a few weeks, but the threat of uncooperative weather that morning made postponement a possibility.
However, weather concerns eventually abated and police officers and community members spent the morning of June 12 biking together in what marked the department’s first major community event since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, a widespread shutdown meant putting a stopper on gatherings and consistent in-person interaction, and for the McKinney Police Department, it meant holding off on the community events that usually bring residents and police together in more low-key environments. That type of meeting is the intent behind department-hosted events like Tacos with Cops or Coffee with Cops, which both aim to allow residents to talk with officers on a more personal level.
For Sgt. Jesse Garcia, one of two leaders for the department’s Neighborhood Police Officer Unit, events like Tacos with Cops allow residents to see the “positive side” of the police department.
“Sometimes, as you know, many of our contacts are negative when we contact people through traffic stops or whatever,” Garcia said, “but since we’re again meeting in a neutral location, (It’s) just getting out there and talking to people and getting them to know us as police officers and giving an idea of what kind of people we really are.”
With residents getting access to COVID-19 vaccines and communities opening back up, the department has begun scheduling gatherings that aim to connect law enforcement officials with the community. As Officer Trent Davis puts it, that type of contact comes with a broader goal.
“I would say that crime prevention is the responsibility of the whole community, not just the police department,” Davis, a crime awareness and education officer, said, “and when we can engage the community and build relationships with them, then it helps the communication with our community, and as a result of those good relationships, we can have a safer community.”
In non-pandemic years, department personnel usually participate in an assortment of events to connect with residents: The Turkey Bowl in November allows officers and local children to meet over a flag football tournament; during the city’s February Trout Derby officers will go fishing with children; the Citizen’s Police Academy allows community members to learn about multiple facets of the department; Garcia said officers will also try to get to know local employees as well as people walking around shopping areas and parks.
During a global pandemic, however, maintaining a relationship with the community came with some unfamiliar hurdles.
“It was difficult, because, you know, to have that relationship with the community, it requires positive interactions,” Davis said, “so we were limited to our typical interactions, which was maybe somebody who was calling for the police in a stressful situation.”
Officers couldn’t shake hands with people, and kids couldn’t see their smiles, Davis added.
“As a community relations officer, I’ll go out and see children and everything, and with the mask on — it was for everyone’s safety, absolutely, and we want people to have that — but when a child doesn’t see an officer’s face and see him smiling and interacting, I don’t think that’s good for us, and it’s certainly not good for them,” Davis said.
For Garcia, missing out on school visits was also disappointing.
“A lot of our contacts with children were riding through the schools, elementaries and things like that, and playing soccer with them, playing basketball with them,” he said. “We definitely missed all that because we had such a great time doing things like that and them seeing what type of people we were.”
However, that doesn’t mean the department put a hold on developing community relations.
“Even with social distancing occurring, we were still able to make contact with these people and say ‘Hi, is there anything we can do,’ through email or something like that,” Garcia said. “What we do like is with everything opening back up is we’re able to start implementing, like, the Turkey Bowl, things like that, community bike rides. So it’s great for us.”
Davis said for those who may still have questions about McKinney police officers, he suggests coming to events like Coffee With Cops, scheduled for 8-10 a.m. July 17 at 1910 N. Stonebridge Drive, or registering for the city’s National Night Out, which has moved to October this year instead of August.
“Have a National Night Out party, we’ll come out, and again, we create an environment that’s comfortable and we’re not on high alert, but we’re there to talk, speak to anything they want to talk about,” Davis said. “They can really get to know us and see who we really are.”