While growing up in Wingate in south Dorchester County, Justin Todd always knew what he wanted to do with his life: “All I wanted to be was a police officer.”
So, after a few years of college, he started putting in applications to police departments. Cambridge was the first place to call and the first to offer a job. His whole career has been with CPD, culminating with becoming chief of the department.
“I just took a passion for the city,” said Todd. “I just enjoyed being out, trying to make a difference.”
Toward that end, he attended the FBI National Academy in 2015 to learn how to better police his community as a leader in the department. Then he went to the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Chicago, which gave him the desire for more leadership training. Along the way, he became familiar with community-oriented policing, which has been around nationwide since the early 2000s.
“Pretty much when I went into law enforcement, it’s been around that long,” Todd explained. “However, until recently, a lot of agencies and a lot of places around the country saw community policing as doing events such as Shop with a Cop or National Night Out.”
In fact, community policing is a partnership between law enforcement and the citizenry collaborating to identify crime-related problems and their causes and then applying solutions. When properly implemented, community policing results in the improvement of the community’s quality of life. To make the partnership work, the police have formal engagements such as meet-and-greets and conversations about events, as well as informal interactions like basketball games or cookouts with the neighborhood kids.
But these are skills the officers must learn. When going through the strenuous six-month police academy, trainees are learning how to survive on the job. They can’t really learn how to police their specific locale because they’re not out in the community.
“Every community is different,” said Todd. “Every city or town has its own different types of issues, different types of problems.”
So, CPD brought in a reputable nonprofit organization in Richmond called Virginia Center for Policing Innovation to lead continuing training for the department. In order to tailor some of the teaching to Cambridge specifically, VCPI’s trainers did research and listened in on City Council meetings.
“Once next year hits,” said Todd, “we’ll look at trainings that are available somewhat near here, or we’ll use our training room to bring someone in, and we’ll have updated trainings.”
This week, VCPI conducted a two-day training for CPD called “Community Policing: Improving Police Efficacy and Building Trust.”
But the police department is only part of the equation - involvement by the citizens and mutual trust between them and law enforcement are essential if community policing is to be successful.
“It starts with the community leaders, the nonprofit organizations, the faith-based organizations,” said Todd. “They all need to come together.”
“We don’t all have to agree,” he continued. “It’s not going to happen. But, if we can sit at the table together and agree to disagree and face the challenges together, that’s when we’ll see the difference, in my eyes.”
One way of bringing the citizens and police together productively has been through the recent clean-up days. On Sept. 24, CPD hosted the first annual Clean Up Day on Pine Street as a step toward curbing gun violence. The event was so successful that St. Luke’s held another one where the police assisted.
“The community saw us out doing it,” said Todd. “And I actually had a couple of people stop me and say, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. These kids are going to get it.’”
People who might not normally want to talk to the police were creating interactions because the officers were showing what they’re really like.
Another, more formal way to help the community get to know their police would be the Citizens Police Academy, which was disrupted by COVID. Todd hopes to bring it back by March. This is a four-to-six week course for locals who hear from the chief, attorneys and SWAT team members, among others. They witness K-9 demonstrations and experience simulation training, so the citizens learn what it’s like to be a Cambridge Police officer.
Around the same time, Todd wants to create a Youth Police Academy for young people who have or are close to having legal issues. They get to see what the police are really trying to do for them, and they build rapport, understanding and trust.
Plus, the less formal interactions continue. On Oct. 30, CPD partnered with Elks Lodge No. 1272 for Trunk or Treat, and they worked with Big Daddy’s Soul Food Kitchen to distribute Thanksgiving meals on Nov. 22.
“We have to let the community know that the police are not there to just answer calls of service or lock up people who do bad things,” Todd said. “We’re there to support our community. Let us all work together to make it better.”