Police Chief Bennett: ‘Tension level is palpable,’ but officers maintain positivity

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Hopkinton Police Chief Joseph Bennett, during an appearance on Monday’s Hopkinton Hangout Hour on HCAM, said that while the pandemic continues to put people on edge, his department has worked hard to keep things positive.

“The tension level is palpable, and the officers sense it,” Bennett said. “They’re maintaining their positive attitude and their positive commitment to the community and just looking to be there for everybody. Every day I’m getting positive feedback from the community about an interaction that they had with one of our officers, and different shows of support come in daily. During these hard times we need to be there for the people more than ever — at least in my career.”

With the need to socially distance, police officers have not been able to mingle with residents as easily. Bennett said that’s been a challenge.

“We train our [staff] to really excel in our skill set for personal interaction, right down to our use of body language and nonverbal communication skills, and we lose a lot of that,” he said. “Also, for us, we see bad things, right? We see bad things, we see horrible things, and the positive interactions with the public are what keeps us balanced, keeps us going, gives us our drive to excel. We all miss it. … That contact with the public, meeting new people.”

Bennett said he misses the annual events with seniors as well as other community events such as the Police Fishing Derby and the National Night Out.

“All those great things that we do that are so fun — we’ll get through this and we’ll get back to those better times,” he said.

Hopkinton made national news recently when a naked couple out walking their dog early in the morning were arrested after allegedly berating and scuffling with officers who checked on them.

“When I heard all that went on I’m like, ‘This is either going to go OK, or it’s going to be a big, huge nightmare,’ ” Bennett said. “It went OK. It went OK. The officers did great. … [The officers] worked their midnight shift, they had a half-hour [before going] home, it’s already 80 degrees and humid, the last thing anybody wanted was to go to that call. And nobody likes wrestling with naked people. Nobody likes that.”

The HPD last year conducted a community survey to get residents’ input as it worked on its five-year strategic plan. The eight main areas of concern and interest were:

  • Traffic congestion
  • Youth and schools
  • Community interaction
  • Crime prevention
  • Vulnerable population issues (homeless, mentally ill, domestic victims, children, elderly)
  • Recruitment and retention of personnel
  • Infinite visioning on the professional direction of HPD personnel
  • Protecting the health and wellness of HPD personnel.

“That gave us a great amount of feedback,” Bennett said. “So many positive comments from the community, and really the number one thing they want from us is more of us. They want more engagement, they want us out speaking in the community, they want us educating the public. That’s the number one thing that they asked for, resoundingly. And it was good to hear.”

After meeting with town boards and officials as well as residents, the police released the five-year plan with a number of goals.

“One of them is community engagement, one is constitutional policing and crime prevention,” he said. “We really have three goals as a police department: Reduce crime, reduce the fear of crime, and improve the quality of life. Really, that’s kind of everything we do. If we’re not actively doing that every day, then we’re missing the boat.”

Added Bennett: “We’ll build the department that the community wants and expects and deserves. This is based on their feedback, and we’ll continue to move the department forward the way the community wants. That’s why we’re the second safest [community in the nation].”

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