Historically an idyllic place to call home, trouble started in Frankling Township when gang activity led to several youth deaths from gun violence. Prior to the pandemic, the township had plans to build a youth center to provide a place for constructive youth recreation, but construction delays became inevitable due to nationwide pandemic closures. While the township was coping with the pandemic, the Franklin Township Police Department underwent a major transformation in department leadership. As part of the restructuring, a new community policing plan was created.
The new unit, the Community Relations Bureau (CRB), was designed to be a proactive, community-based unit, engaging the community through programming, events, and other community activities. The primary focus of the CRB was not to be crime-driven but rather community-driven. Officers were given the opportunity to create and lead programs based on their passions, which led to the creation of programs that addressed the basic needs of the community. The programs and events featured in Franklin’s All-America City Award application have helped bring the community together and changed the relationship between the community and the police department.
Cooking with Cops CWC
CWC was one of the first programs that helped to launch Franklin Township Police Department’s Community initiatives. Detective Burwell designed and wrote the curriculum for the seven-week course, where students are taught food safety, kitchen safety, food preparation, proper food storage and are exposed to a variety of cooking methods. The curriculum goes far beyond cooking simple meals. Students have prepared delightful meals such as, chicken francese, chicken and waffles, steak, vegetable medley, salads, and macaroni & cheese. His class rapidly gained popularity among students and parents in the township. So much so that the class had to be relocated to our township high school that had more commercial cooking facilities, which could accommodate more students simultaneously.
Detective Al Burwell uses the time in the kitchen to talk to students about life choices, exposes them to the law enforcement career and even helps them to resolve issues or conflicts they encounter in their daily lives. He shows kids there are alternatives to solving problems that do not include fists, knives, or guns, all while teaching them to cook.
The program has also received community support, including donations of food and funding, and partnerships with local businesses. The owner of The Stage House Tavern in Somerset was so impressed with the program that he offered up his restaurant as a location. With this partnership, students attend their last class at the restaurant and work alongside his professional chefs to create meals, which they then serve to the invited guests – parents and siblings. Some students have even been offered jobs at the restaurant.
Community Relations Bureau (CRB) Franklin FIT Program
The Franklin FIT program focuses on promoting a healthy and fit lifestyle among youth in Franklin Township. The program follows the CrossFIT model and is led by certified head coach Detective Bobby Brown. It started with eight students in the summer of 2020 and has now enrolled well over 100 township youth. The program emphasizes mental and emotional benefits of exercise and builds self-confidence among participants. Many adults know that “blowing off steam” by exercising helps them to think clearer. Kids on the other hand, may not be able to make that association. Franklin FIT teaches kids how to use the mental and emotional benefits of exercise to their advantage.
Each class starts with a question of the day, which elicits discussion between cops and youth. With a diversity of participants, youth’s minds are opened by having conversation with people ‘different’ from themselves.
Other CrossFIT gyms and local businesses have seen the impact of the program and have supported it by donating gym equipment and workout gear. Showing that exercise can help combat a myriad of stressors has allowed the officers to form bonds with the young attendees, building trust and limiting fears.
Citizen Academy Program
The Franklin Township Police Department offers a 12-week Citizen Academy for adult residents and local business owners to learn about the law enforcement profession and its officers. The program includes classes on various topics such as patrol, detective bureau, traffic bureau, community policing, internal affairs, and use of force. The most eye-opening classes are the Firearms Simulator and Motor Vehicle stops. The participants get to try their hand at real-life shoot or don’t shoot scenarios as well as being the officer on a simulated motor vehicle stop with an agreeable driver and one that isn’t.
The program also aims to bridge the divide between officers and community members through authentic communication. Officers hear from community members during discussions about policing, tactics, laws, and controversial topics. The officers want the participants to engage in conversation and even challenge things that they hear. The program has been attended by residents of all ages, business owners, and township elected officials. It is an opportunity for everyone to learn and share to create a partnership between the community and the police department.