You can learn a lot about a Harlem Department of Public Safety officer just by looking at
the front fender of their patrol car.
For about three months, officers with the department who make self-initiated felony arrests within Harlem city limits have been awarded red lightning bolt decals to place on their patrol cars just above the drivers side wheel well.
The lightning bolt program was put in place by Chief Gary Jones, who adopted the idea from a similar program sponsored by the Georgia State Patrol years ago.
“State patrol used to do it about 20 years ago before going away from it,” Jones said. “I saw it as an opportunity to motivate the officers to be looking for specific things that they may not ordinarily be looking for. It doesn’t give them a pay incentive, but it does give them some recognition.”
Out of the eight patrol units used by the department, all but one – the spare unit – has red bolts along its side.
Most cruisers have about six or seven bolts affixed to their exteriors, Jones said. Officer Chet Hopkins currently holds the most self-initiated felony arrests with 10 since the program’s inception. But the decals do more than improve the morale of the department, Jones said. Harlem residents have taken to the program since it shows the department takes an aggressive stance on crime within its jurisdiction he said.
“I think some people were under the mindset from previous administrations that we just ride around here and do nothing,” he said. “To a certain degree, that may have been what was actually transpiring. Now that we’ve focused more on training issues and drug interdiction and crime intervention, officers are spotting things now that before they might not have even noticed.”
Jones said about 85 percent of the arrests are drug-related. The remaining 15 percent are usually habitual DUI violators.
“I just want (the citizens) to think the department is productive and that the department is transparent because we are allowing the people to see what we’re doing,” Jones said. “I think the public has received it very well.”