Moving Forward – Morro Bay Neighborhood Cop Program

Written by Judy Salamacha

December 2, 2021

Protect and serve is the pledge a cadet trainee will agree to when accepting the badge and uniform to become a law enforcement officer. But in the real world — on the streets, on the roadways, even in the forestry and in our community neighborhoods — shouldn’t this pledge be a two-way agreement? Can a law enforcement officer truly protect us if a citizenry is not agreeable to the rules intended to protect us? And doesn’t agreement come with a handshake, a nod, a smile — mutual trust that is established among all parties concerned?

Does this concept of protect and serve only apply to the individual that holds their right hand upward and states, I will? As members of a community that elects to maintain a police department, we must maintain oversight and observance of the rules we’ve accepted to make our community safe, but I also believe we must personally and collectively protect and serve those men and women we have employed, those officers who have agreed to protect and serve us.

Currently the City of Morro Bay has a “top-cop” that believes law enforcement works better when residents personally know the officers that have pledged to protect and serve their city and neighborhoods. As a young boy growing up in the Central Valley, Morro Bay Police Chief Jody Cox recalls regularly visiting the city with his grandparents. His grandfather would tell him stories about the small community that blossomed during World War II. Now as chief of police, Cox intends to reinvigorate that sometime-ago era when neighbors, business owners, community organizations and law enforcement knew and depended on each other to weather the tough times and build on future opportunities.

Chief Cox has been in law enforcement for 34 years. He’s experienced the good times and lean times as an employee of the City of Morro Bay as well as a resident. It is no big mystery that this current national climate with shout-outs to defund the police can’t help but impact community and department attitudes, although Chief Cox has always maintained vigorous ongoing training and community interaction.

Chief Cox contends, “It is impossible to do more with less; you have to reformulate how you do things to handle the big issues. The greatest challenges facing law enforcement today are the strained and failed relationships with the communities we serve. Our motto of protect and serve has come under fire. Our tactics and our commitment to our communities is being questioned…they question our motives, our tactics, and our commitment to unbiased policing, and procedural justice.”

When Chief Cox served as Morro Bay’s commander, he would suggest to his superiors to rebuild community trust with neighborhood policing, but there was never the time or funding to implement it. He called the program he had designed simply the Neighborhood Cop Program.

“If you want to be different, you have to be different,” he said. “We need to return to a pro-active community policing model, where police officers are known in the neighborhoods they serve. When they know their neighborhoods, they can anticipate patterns of behavior and understand when something isn’t right. And when the neighbors get to know them on a more personal basis, they are more willing to call and give the officers a heads-up if something is wrong.”
He believes crimes are not just solved by cops – they are solved with the support of the community members who step forward to help guide the process.

Once he was selected chief, he knew it was finally time to implement his plan. In 2019 the program’s website and mobile app were implemented. In an interview with KSBY-TV, Commander Amy Watkins explained the Neighborhood Cop Program. “The ultimate goal is to become very interactive with our community.”

Morro Bay has been divided into five sectors. At least two officers have been assigned to each one of those sectors. The app identifies the name and contact information for the designated officer for their sector areas.

To be clear, 911 is still the call for all emergency requests. The Neighborhood Cop Program handles requests such as noise nuisance or parking problems, reports of unusual activities in the neighborhood, or an issue with a neighbor that might be better negotiated with the help of a trusted neighborhood police officer. Once residents are signed up for the program there is access to one’s assigned neighborhood cop as well as alerts the department sends out, such as “Be on the lookout for ‘xyz’ suspicious person(s)” reports.

“The intent is to get to know one’s neighborhood officers personally before an issue might arise or blowup and become a bigger issue,” Chief Cox explained. “Residents are more comfortable calling when they know and trust who to call.”

Getting to know the officers in a neighborhood’s sector can be done on a personal one-on-one basis or at a Neighborhood Watch meeting or even if a few neighbors are getting together for a potluck or sunset dinner. Why not have the officer(s) drop in and meet everyone?

Although the department has held Coffee with Cops at local shops and a Pizza Night Social at Pizza Port’s outdoor garden, the pandemic has made it more difficult to get the word out about the program. It is hoped more neighborhood meet and greets will happen once the pandemic has lifted.

So, Morro Bay, I’m suggesting a New Year’s 2022 resolution. Let’s make a community pledge to hold up our right hand and commit to embracing a community partnership with our law enforcement officers by downloading and registering at the Neighborhood Cop Program app and extend an invitation to our designated neighborhood officers to visit our areas and get to know us. I bet they would enjoy a cookie! Or a cold drink on a warmer day, certainly, a handshake and a smile!

Residents can download the free interactive app on their smartphone for a complete explanation. It is available at Google and Apple app stores under Morro Bay Police Department. After installing tap the Neighborhood Cop icon and register.

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