Proactive approach

Community Resource Officer provides link between patrol, prevention

The City of The Colony has one of the lowest crime rates in the D-FW area. While many factors contribute to those statistics, there’s one statistic that can’t be quantified: crime prevention.

Community Resource Officer Keli Hunt spearheads The Colony Police Department’s crime-prevention outreach. A primary element of that outreach is the city’s participation in the annual National Night Out (NNO) event, scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 5, in which neighborhoods host community block parties and welcome visits from police and fire personnel, and other city officials.

Community Resource Officer Keli Hunt, far left, and Sgt. Keil Moon, far right, get a little help from the TCPD Explorers at NNO 2013.

Community Resource Officer Keli Hunt, far left, and Sgt. Keil Moon, far right, get a little help from the TCPD Explorers at NNO 2013.

At its core, NNO is designed to not only connect residents with police, but also neighbors with neighbors. Hunt said parties need not be big or costly. What’s important is making the time to get to know the people living in your neighborhood.

“My hope is that National Night Out generates communication. The goal is just to learn who’s to the left, who’s to the right, and who’s behind you,” she said. “Just pull your grill from the backyard to the front – people will come.”

Armed with interconnectedness, residents become a more effective crime-prevention unit by more easily recognizing suspicious activity.

“A lot of people work from home now. There’s also stay-at-home parents, and the like,” Hunt said. “Knowing ‘Ms. Smith’ goes to work from 9-5, I also then know there’s something not right seeing a white van loading things up in her driveway in the middle of the day.”

Officer Hunt’s supervisor, Sgt. Keil Moon, said everyone plays a role in crime prevention. “We can’t be everywhere at once. We need the community’s eyes and ears,” he said.

National Night Out also affords residents the chance to get to know the officers that patrol their neighborhoods.

“We get our assignments at the beginning of the year. You have two officers assigned to your area. That’s helpful to know so you can work together,” Hunt said.

National Night Out, however, is by no means the only community outreach program within TCPD. Hunt, who is serving her fourth year as community resource officer after three years on patrol, said her job has the benefit of being proactive, whereas patrol is more reactive.

This young resident of The Colony helped celebrate the 30th anniversary of National Night Out in 2013.

This young resident of The Colony helped celebrate the 30th anniversary of National Night Out in 2013.

“I laugh and say I’m ‘Smiley Cop,’ but in all seriousness I have the good fortune of encountering more people who are happy to see me,” Hunt said. “On patrol, you often see people at the worst times of their life. But my contact with the community is mostly positive. Nothing bad has happened yet, and I’m hoping that I can say something, do something, or help them in some way so that it won’t.”

The department’s CRO is primarily charged with helping residents understand that police play a larger role in the community than just law enforcement.

“Keli is one of the first links to the community to let them know what we do, to bridge the gap between a patrol officer riding around in the car responding to calls and the department’s efforts as a whole to safeguard the community,” Moon said.

While the city’s high school and middle schools have their own school resource officers, Hunt serves as the de facto SRO for the elementary schools. She frequently gives presentations teaching kids about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, bullying, and social media safety. She also draws upon her experiences on the beat to connect with students.

“Statistics show middle school is when kids start to be exposed to things like that so we try to get out in front of the curve,” Hunt said. “When I was in patrol, I saw how bad things are for some of these kids. That experience stays with me when I’m talking to them now as a resource officer.”

The CRO also oversees the department’s 10-week Citizen Police Academy, provides tours of the department’s facilities, speaks to seniors at the community center, and assists other officers with the local Explorer Post and Shattered Dreams event at The Colony High School.

Whatever the format or venue, Hunt stays abreast of crime trends to provide the most up-to-date information. For example, an uptick in daytime burglaries might spark an outreach campaign to remind residents of the importance of securing valuables in their vehicles out of sight, closing their garage doors or putting locks on their backyard gates.

As many people already know, the most common crimes of all are crimes of opportunity.

“The bad guys are walking in the back gate and then they’ve got this huge privacy fence to do all the work they want – break open a window, jar the door, whatever it takes. No one will see them. Got a new fence? Put the slates on the inside so they can’t crawl up.

“Nothing is going to make your car or house 100 percent secure. But if I’m a bad guy looking for targets, I’m looking for easy access. I’m going to choose the unlocked car or gate over the ones that aren’t as easy to get in to.”

Cybercrime is another frequent topic. Criminals are getting smarter, Hunt said. Identity theft and other electronic scams are a growing concern. Recently, there were reports around Denton County of fraudsters making phone calls claiming to be officers of the court and demanding payment of outstanding fines. There’s also been reports of criminals pretending to be representatives of utility companies and threatening to shut off service lest immediate payment of past due amounts be made.

National Night Out block parties typically feature crime-prevention materials and other useful information.

National Night Out block parties typically feature crime-prevention materials and other useful information.

“Whoever they say they are, tell them you can’t talk right now but will call them back. Then, look on the internet or your bill, get a number you can call to verify,” Hunt said. “Never give out account numbers over the phone. They should have all that information if you are in fact a customer. Warrant officers do call people but they instruct respondents to pay fines in person at the municipal court. Bottom line, verify who you’re talking to.”

And don’t hesitate to contact TCPD if you see suspicious activity on the streets. In fact, a recent raid on a house in the city was based on information from a neighborhood watch group. National Night Out is an important event that builds synergy in the community but it’s only one night in the year. Crime prevention lasts all year long.

“We’re always trying to think of new and different ways to connect with the community. We honestly cannot do our job without them,” Hunt said. “We need our residents out there helping us, calling in those suspicious things, letting others know we’re a friend and here to help however we can. We don’t want to show up only when something bad happens. We’re here for other reasons, too. National Night Out is a great time for that.”