New public safety director brings back community policing in Aiken

Under Director Charles Barranco, the Aiken Department of Public Safety is getting back to community policing, something it had moved away from in the past decade.

“Our community policing is becoming a strong focus for our department,” said Sgt. Jake Mahoney. “It’s something the director is very excited about.”

Mahoney said the department had moved away from community policing because Aiken had grown so fast, making it difficult to have neighborhood-based patrols. Since Barranco took over in February, he is directing the department back that way.

One example is a class starting Sept. 13 called the Citizens Public Safety Academy, which is an effort to create liaisons within the community and to show the public what police officers do every day.

“If the only exposure you get to police work is on TV and in the news, there might be some wrong assumptions,” Lt. Ben Harm said. “This way we can bring people in and show them we are good folks.”

Applications for the class are open to the public. It will be held every Thursday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. for nine weeks.

The class will involve instruction in basic patrol functions, firefighting, use of force including lethal force, community policing, traffic safety and criminal investigating, according to a release.The instructors will be members of the department who specialize in those areas, Mahoney said, and they have class space for about 20 people.

Harm said the hope is that the pupils will learn the capabilities and limitations of an officer and the reasons behind some police action.

“We can’t get DNA back in 30 minutes like they do on TV,” he said. “And they can learn why we pull over that car at 2 a.m. in a known drug area.”

Another example of the move back to community policing occurred in the spring when Barranco assigned two full-time officers to four areas of town that have the highest volume of calls. Those officers were tasked with learning who the community leaders are and defining the neighborhoods’ issues.

“We want to have a good relationship with the people who live in those areas,” Mahoney said. “By putting officers there full-time, we are committing to them.”

Mahoney said the department has already seen a positive impact from the programs. He said they receive more calls from people with tips now that they can identify the officers by name.

Communication is key, Mahoney said.

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