MOUNT PLEASANT, Wis. — Mt. Pleasant Police Officer Rachel Gardinier spends a lot of time with kids.
“A lot of them are from single-family homes and working-family homes,” she says. “So they don’t get a lot of the attention they would get as they do here.”
Officer Gardinier works at the Mt. Pleasant COP House. COP stands for Community Oriented Policing.
“We work with the community and we help them fill their needs and work with them to build trusting relationships,” she says.
One of the big needs is after-school programming for neighborhood kids. Gardinier says she and her partner at the COP House provide reading and writing programs, summer play camps and even dinner.
“We like to go fishing with them, to go to sporting games with them,” Gardinier says. “We just try to keep them very active.”
The Mt. Pleasant COP House is the newest in the area. There are six more next door in Racine.
Sergeant James Pettis with the Racine Police Department says officers are stationed in those houses for several years at a time.
“You have the opportunity to build a positive relationship through positive interaction with kids and with community members,” he says.
Each house has a slightly different approach and officers don’t just work with kids. Sgt. Pettis says COP House officers have helped settle long-standing disputes between neighbors, and have assisted people dealing with landlord complaints. Community partners like Orchestrating Good have provided houses with free food pantries and back-to-school hair cut events.
Pettis says community police work like this has powerful results. So powerful, COP House officers have made their playbook available online for other cities and towns who feel they might benefit from this approach to policing.
“Impactful, long standing,” he says. “This is not a temporary solution to crime reduction and quality of life improvement. This is a sustainable, long-term solution for us here.”
And Officer Gardinier says she might be more impacted than the kids – she thinks about them all the time.
“You’re not just coming to work. I don’t just work 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” she says. “I know when all of their birthdays are, I know when their soccer games are, their basketball games, their football games. Even if I’m not working, I’m going to be there to support them, because that’s my relationship with them.”
Because at the end of the day, this is what serving the community is all about.
“This is, yeah, everything I got into being a police officer for,” Gardinier says.