Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn made one of his weekly walks around the local neighborhood on Sunday, this time strolling from door to door amid rainfall around the Bayside area.
Ahearn, hired in November, walked around the blocks with Sgt. Brian Hoffman, the two chatting as they knocked on doors and introduced themselves as members of the Police Department who want to hear from their community.
“It’s so people can just know we’re humans,” Ahearn said. “We want to put a face to the department.”
The recently hired chief has regularly taken Sunday morning community walks to ingratiate himself with the neighborhood. So many locals showed up to the first walk with things to discuss, Ahearn said, that the group didn’t even begin its walk until well after 40 minutes of talking.
Residents at city council meetings have expressed concerns over public safety amid several notable violent crimes in the past few years. Racial tensions have also risen between communities of color and law enforcement, especially after the APD began stationing officers at city council meetings following an August protest by activists calling for justice in the death of David Josiah Lawson, a Humboldt State University student who was fatally stabbed in April 2017.
“We decided to just start talking to people and find out what they were concerned about,” said Ahearn, who came on right after the APD’s interim chief Richard Ehle announced the department had wrapped its investigation of the Lawson case. “It’s about building relations and connecting with people.”
Traffic safety, particularly distracted or speedy driving, are among the top concerns of locals, Ahearn said. Early morning hours as parents drop children off to school ramps up the need for safe driving, he said.
Most locals are happy with the safety of the downtown area, Ahearn added, and their concerns over homelessness have more to do with genuine concern.
“With the homeless issue, it’s not so much (locals) are saying, ‘Do something about it,’ as they are saying, ‘What can we do about it?’” Ahearn said.
A sense of connection and transparency lies at the root of community outreach, Hoffman said. Letting people know that problems will be solved is the intended goals, he added.
Ahearn said he has found minority communities have begun feeling more confident in his department’s work, particularly with his efforts to simply talk to residents and not patrol them.
“There’s been no animosity,” Ahearn said. “That’s not to say that there aren’t people in our community who want us to do a better job. And that’s our charge: we want to do a better job communicating with everyone. If there’s a loss of trust in the community, we want to repair that.”
Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.