Monday, October 15, 2012

Lunch Chat with Superior Community Policing Officer Bonnie Beste

Officer Beste (r) with youth from the community.
A couple weeks back I had an chance to serve on a focus group to discuss ways in which the Superior Public Library could better serve the community. It was a visioning exercise aimed at helping the library better forge its path into the future. But it was also instructive for me as I listened to so many others briefly share their background and experience in community service.

One of the panel members was a local police officer, Bonnie Beste. As she responded to portions of the discussion I became aware that my view of the role of local police has changed since I was younger, or was at least different than I’d previously thought. After the meeting I asked Officer Beste if we might be able to meet to talk more about today’s police work as it relates to our 21st century communities.

EN: In what ways has the role of police changed in the modern world?

BB: The role of police has historically been reactionary. Now, police are more pro-active. Their involvement in the community is more pro-active, trying to resolve issues before the calls come in. Hopefully, reducing crime by getting citizen involved. Citizen watch is a tool, educating citizens in how they can help. The key thing is making connections with the community.

At one time police were more connected to communities. When squad cars came along it gave officers greater mobility so they began to cover much larger areas. Today we’re focusing efforts on smaller areas again.

Another thing about cars is that they create a barrier between the police and the people. They do, however, help reduce “crimes of opportunity” when people know they are being watched.

EN: What are some of the things that officers like yourself do that most people are unaware of?

BB: We deal with a lot of people with a range of issues. Maybe there has not been a crime but people call because of their fears. We get five calls a day from one lady with mental health issues. We have to go when there is a call.

Child custody issues result in calls when a parent won’t turn kids over. Police can’t get involved, however, without a court order.

We always have Fourth of July calls. And there are a lot of other kinds of calls. Child abuse calls, sexual assaults.

We’re also involved in community meetings, educating people to get involved. Many people don’t want to bother anyone.

The police have been moving from reactionary policing to proactive policing. The approach is more of a problem-solving model.

Other things police are involved with include bike safety and a new program called Coffee with a Cop in which people get to meet officers and ask questions. The program makes police more approachable.

EN: Has the Florida incident hurt your neighborhood watch program? 

BB: No. This has become a talking point in our training and a teaching point. Community watch citizens are not to carry weapons or engage potential criminals.

EN: How have women contributed to the way police function to make them more effective? 

BB: Women bring assets to police work. Brute force is not necessary, though women are capable (with regard to strength.) Many situations require a different kind of communication to deescalate a situation before force needs to be used. For more than a hundred years women have always been called into special situations involving women and children. Currently women make up 15% of U.S. law enforcement.

EN: What prompted you personally to want to become an officer? 

BB: It’s always been in my genetic makeup. I played cops and robbers as a child. In high school I had two friends whose fathers were cops. When I grew up I wanted to help people. This is a world where I can do that.

EN: What’s been the hardest thing about being a woman on the police force? 

BB: In the beginning, it was a challenge acclimating to the department. It’s a male dominated field. Now, the hardest part has been dealing with things that have happened with children. It’s hard to get the pictures out of your head.

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