After the Webinar: Elevating Community Engagement and Relationships to Reduce Gun Violence. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar presenters Matthew Thomas, Kevin Armbruster, and Kerry Yerico answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Elevating Community Engagement and Relationships to Reduce Gun Violence. Here are just a few of their responses.


Audience Question: People don’t call 911 when shots are fired, because they often don’t trust law enforcement to not add to the violence when they respond. So, how can agencies address this issue and this concern?

Kevin Armbruster: That is one of the biggest reasons people don’t call the police. Interact with police, lie to police, or are uncooperative to police. This is the mistrust with law enforcement. And, you know, it’s just how do you overcome that? Is it a short-term thing, or a long-term thing? And to me, it is that long term thing. You have to gain their trust, and how do you do this? This is why I think this message is so important as far as being able to call 911 and actually have someone act on it. And when I say act on it, it’s not just the officer responding to the community, but it is all those personal touches, I mean it is a customer service-based type thing. It is re-calling and having someone talk to them, that’s why I mentioned also the training to police officers. Just on interviewing, active listening skills, just something of that nature that, you know, it’s just not a one-way conversation and not all law enforcement is best suited, I guess, as for interacting, as they should be. This is part of the training, law enforcement needs to get officers, as far as how to talk to people. It goes down to that micro-level to make it happen into an organizational game plan of 911 type of campaign for response and action. Hopefully, change the citizen’s mind and that’s really what it is. That’s why we’re listing all these things as far as community engagement. The different community tactics that we’ve all presented, it’s engaging that community, having them work more with law enforcement. It is a rapport building, trust-building, long-term goal. So, I hope I answered your question but that’s my thoughts on it unless my panelists have other things.



Audience Question: Could you share what you know about that Mr. Softee Truck in Camden? Is it staff? Has it been shown to be effective? Anything else you can share about that strategy.

Kerry Yerico: Yeah, so I can share that. It was actually used we would deploy that Mr. Softee Truck with the use of asset forfeiture funds. And so yes, it was definitely effective. And I think one of the most, you know, unofficial aspects of it was that we saw you know obviously children coming out of their homes. We saw community members living on that block, like engaging with the police, and we actually did receive additional tips. Just making, and, you know, as Kevin even mentioned, as a response to shootings. Making sure that patrol is out there and can the community members have visually seen them. So obviously as I mentioned, it was also used to curb any retaliation, right? So, you know, a rival crew is not going to obviously come back to the block when they see children out and about at a Mr. Softee Truck. So, I think that was under Chief Scott Thompson, one of his, most, you know, innovative tactics to really engage the community. And, as I said, I think, you know, anecdotally, we definitely saw an impact on the intel world and gaining some additional intelligence from field contacts and interviews with the citizens when that was deployed.


Audience Question: How do you recommend that departments measure the level of awareness and community trust that they are building? How do you measure that?

Kerry Yerico: Right. Yeah. This is always a difficult one. I mean, I think qualitatively, you have to be creative, and I think, as Kevin and Matt mentioned, it’s a long-term approach. So, I would recommend, you know, maybe, at the start of a community engagement effort doing like a baseline survey. Working with either, you know, research partners or academics or even like a crime analysis unit. Creating some sort of community metrics to evaluate where your community is at. And then after, you know, you’ve done this for 3, 6 months, 9 months, a year. And just kind of doing these little check-ins with the community through either focus groups or community surveys. I think that’s probably the best way to see if you’re having an impact. Obviously, crime statistics, you know, you can always have your crime analysis unit, calculate that for you. But, I think having that qualitative feedback from the community, either through surveys or even at the, you know, monthly or weekly community meetings that your department is having is a really effective way, is whether or not you’re having that impact.



Audience Question: Is it possible to get a copy of your weekly newsletter? Sounds like a just looking for ways to communicate things and that is one option.

Matthew C. Thomas: Sure. Angela, you want to give me an e-mail. Send me an e-mail. And then we’ll work on getting your templates, what that looks like. And I’d love to see what else you’re doing on your end to share information.



Audience Question: Are there any grants available that you’re aware of that can offset the cost of equipment like ShotSpotter or NIBIN devices?

Kerry Yerico: Yes. So, through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, they do offer a grant. Basically, for you to improve your Crime Gun Intelligence Center process and kind of that integration. So, a lot of the grantees have used those funds for purchases for technologies, such as gunshot detection systems and NIBIN equipment. And so, usually, that award is, I think that solicitation should be coming out this spring.


Audience Question: Are you familiar with any agencies that include public defenders as part of their community engagement? Our audience member Mark Margaret goes on to suggest that through a defense attorney, may even be able to find out why someone needed to be shot? What kind of relationship that they had?  So, I wasn’t sure if you’ve involved with public defenders before or not, or if you know of any agencies that do?

Kevin Armbruster: I never have. I’m just trying to think if, you know, if it’s a public defender involved, there’s probably a defendant, and I don’t know if they want to talk first then. But as far as the officers go, no, I don’t know that at all. I do know they have their own investigators that get out. Or, you know, re-investigate some of the community.  I’ve never been involved in that, and I haven’t seen that. I’d be interested if something was like that around the country.

Host: Absolutely. So, if anyone in the audience is aware of that kind of interaction, do reach out, let us know. And we’ll put you in touch with Kevin, so we can find out about a lot of another possible interaction.



Audience Question: Surveys have indicated that the portion of the US population that is affiliated with a former religion has been declining over the last decade or so. What alternative groups and associations would you recommend in order to build those bridges, and build relationships with folks who are not religiously affiliated?

Kevin Armbruster: Very good question. You know, it doesn’t have to. I know I mentioned faith-based programs. But I didn’t say like specific faiths. And that’s the whole thing. I mean, there are different ones. There are a lot of advocacy groups, and each community has its own. If there’s a national one, I’m not sure you know what that would be. But each community group has different advocacy that helps out. And they might not be a respond to crime scene thing. This might be something that law enforcement or someone from those groups needs to reach out to law enforcement to have that talk on how they can better assist with each other. I’m not sure if that answered the question. Because I don’t have a specific group, but there are non-profits, there are community groups that do interact with the community that could possibly or potentially be what we talked about as far as liaisons with law enforcement.



Audience Question: On the national level, where do you see guns being involved in crimes? Where are they obtained? Are they straw purchases, stolen guns or are they purchased illegally? Do you have some sense of that Kerry or are you familiar with those statistics?

Kerry Yerico: Sure. I mean, I think it, you know, it varies in every city a little bit, but I think we’re seeing elements of straw purchasers, gun trafficking. As Kevin sort of mentioned, we see that trend of stolen guns in states that tend to have more lax gun laws. And so, I think that’s obviously, you know, where we’re seeing the bulk of it. Obviously, illegal firearms being passed around from crew to crew. Those are some of the national trends that we’re seeing. Unfortunately, I don’t have, you know, specific statistics that I can certainly follow up. And if you wanted to shoot me an e-mail, I could potentially get some of the more actual stats for you.



Audience Question: How can agencies deal with the perception that shots fired calls don’t get an officer response, even though the calls might be put into 911?

Kevin Armbruster: The whole thing is the perception. So, what has law enforcement done or, what are they doing currently? Currently, there might just be a callback and if there’s no answer, it’s done.  Like I’ve mentioned before about Chattanooga Police Department. They actually go over everything the following day of calls that have been unreturned. They put a premium on that action taking place. Again, this is what we’re talking about: perception. So, this is also part of the social media campaign. You have websites, you have everything else. This is the stuff that needs to be put out there.  It also needs to be internally law enforcement messaged from the top all the way down, this includes getting your sheriff’s department involved because some 911 centers are held by the county, and not by local LE. Some are mixed. So, everyone needs to be involved. The shareholders need to understand the message from the top down to be able to change that perception that the police care. I hope I answered that question.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Elevating Community Engagement and Relationships to Reduce Gun Violence.  



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