PALESTINE — Robert Herbert has made community relations paramount in his approximately eight months on the job as Palestine’s police chief.
“The more we get involved within the community, I think the easier our job will be,” Herbert said.
The chief has taken to heart that the city council and city manager expect the police department to become involved and visible in the community, City Manager Mike Ohrt said.
“We want them (police) to become community-oriented out there,” Ohrt said. “The initiatives that have been started (by Herbert) are certainly a good start and good progress.”
Ohrt added, “We certainly still have work to do, but the initial signs are definitely encouraging and he’s doing a great job. … I’m excited to have him and look forward to working with him for years to come.”
Herbert said the police department has to have a solid community division where everybody works together. An officer has volunteered to serve as community relations officer, he noted.
Herbert said he has met “a lot of good people” and is “having a great time” as police chief thus far.
Herbert has 29 years of experience in law enforcement in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and 30 years of military service in active and reserve duty.
In promoting community involvement, Herbert implemented his idea for employees in all departments within city hall to deliver meals on wheels — police, fire, public works, administration and others — during their lunch break four days a week.
“It got a lot of other people involved, not just the police department,” Herbert said. “We came together to support (Meals On Wheels). We’ve had a lot of success with that and it was received very well. I’m happy with that program.”
“That’s one way I saw fit that we could get out and reach out to the community. Also it gets my officers out, involved, going door to door meeting individuals and having rapport with them.” Herbert said.
Having police and other city employees deliver meals has helped the program because it was short on drivers, said Lois Durant, executive director, Meals on Wheels of Palestine Inc.
Police officers deliver on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and other city workers deliver on Thursdays and Fridays within the city limits. They deliver 20 to 24 meals each day, Camille Graham, homebound coordinator, said.
“It’s really worked out well and it’s been a great help,” Ms. Graham said.
In another move toward community involvement, Herbert is in the early stages of organizing community and neighborhood watch programs.
“I think once we get our hands fully around that, we will have a lot of participation,” he said.
It will provide more “eyes and ears” for law enforcement trying to combat crime, Herbert added.
In a response to an outcry about a rash of burglaries, Herbert and the police department conducted a town hall meeting, where they listened as about 100 people expressed concerns about the problem and that they wanted to be involved within the community.
“When you start experiencing home invasions and burglaries, etceteras, you need folks to watch out for each other and to call in when they see suspicious activity in their area,” Herbert said.
“We as an agency can’t do it all by ourselves, so we have to depend on citizens to help us out,” he said, observing increasing community involvement.
“We will just have a fun-filled evening (for) people to come out and be one big happy family (for) a big gathering and there will be vendors,” Herbert said.
Herbert and police also recently started a summer junior police academy. It consists of three week-long sessions for about 30 students each in the eighth through the 12th grades. The last session ends today.
“It’s a team-building mentoring type program; we bring kids together. Our whole focus is to give them practical ideas on what we do as a police department,” Herbert said.
“A lot of these kids are very interested in one day doing something in the law enforcement world, so this just enhances their curiosity on what we do and hopefully we will grow some men and women that will be good officers one day in the future,” Herbert said.
Topics covered include an introduction to the police world, burglary of a habitation, burglary of a vehicle, robbery and other subjects.
Right now, Herbert said, he is holding steady with programs in place and trying to fortify them and make them better before moving into other areas to implement new things. He hopes, though, to add five positions to the 38-member police force in the new fiscal year.