Hopkinton’s new police chief, Joseph Bennett, is looking to continue to find creative ways to engage and connect with the community, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. One of the most successful programs has involved officers driving past the homes of children celebrating birthdays or other special events.
“We put a posting out to let people know we would come by, and it has really evolved quickly,” Bennett said. “As we’ve moved forward, we are getting fantastic feedback. It’s a quick opportunity to engage the people.”
Initially, police officers or firefighters would stop by a child’s house on their special day. Given the current need for social distancing, representatives from the Police Department, Fire Department and Department of Public Works have been teaming up to put together a parade to drive by the house, Bennett said.
The trucks and police cars line up down the road and slowly drive by the house with lights, sirens and horns announcing their presence.
“We have been doing at least two per day and people seem to love it,” Bennett said. “It’s our way of saying we are here, we are always here, and we are happy to do it for the public.”
Involving the Fire Department and DPW, and their enthusiastic participation, shows the “character of the community,” Bennett said. The response from the public has been tremendous. A total of 51 birthdays or special events were on Bennett’s calendar between April 1 and April 10, with more coming in every day.
“We need stuff like this,” he said. “Many communities are doing this, there is so much support, and we want to make sure that we are staying connected.”
The birthday visits are part of a larger effort that started under former HPD Chief Edward Lee to expand community engagement. It’s something Bennett wants to continue and build upon now that he has taken over the top role.
The plan involved first reaching out to the community to gauge expectations and see what people want from the Police Department. Being connected with the town and its residents and businesses is something that has always been of value to the police, Bennett said.
“We are working to enhance that by spreading it out through the rank and file and getting more engagement,” he said.” Once we get through [the pandemic], we are going to get police officers out into the community more and engage with the business community. We are going to begin doing that right away.”
Editor’s note: This story appears in the April 22 print edition of the Hopkinton Independent.