More Than Enforcers, EPD Officers Are Guardians, Says Chief Watson as His Newest Unit Serves Food to Those in Need
Today, about 500 plates of food were served (about double normal) at the daily free meal offered in Old Town. The large amount might have had to do with Officer Wayne Rabang’s reputation as a chef or with the large police presence that provided a sense of safety so that many in need felt comfortable showing up.
Sgt. Leonard La France, the leader of CSET, the Community Safety Enhancement Team in charge of improving the quality of life for everyone in the Old Town, Waterfront, and park areas of Eureka, said that sometimes there are “wolves who prey on the people who need services” and today with so many officers at the daily free meal, the “wolves” wouldn’t act out.
La France, who is working on getting his Bachelor of Arts degree and has been studying homelessness, said that this was part of his unit’s efforts to find long-term solutions to the problem. “On July 1 we started,” he said. “We recognized right away some issues…At the free meal, there were wolves that intimidated the elderly and kids–those needing services provided there.”
Chief Steve Watson said that La France came up with the idea of combining Officer Wayne Rabang’s prowess at the grill with a direct way of helping those in need. He explained that his officers want to balance the warrior side of officers that are there to demand people follow the law with “outreach and compassion”–making sure there is a balance.He added that today’s feast provided opportunities for both the officers and for the homeless and those in need of services to “connect at a human level.” Law enforcement needs to interact in ways that are not always about enforcing the letter of the law, he said. “So it not always when we are trying to fix a problem that we see them,” he explained.
He added, “Some officers helped serve meals. Other members barbequed. They both cooked and served in the kitchen…We got great feedback from those there. I really liked to see the bridge building.”
Chief Watson pointed out, “We can’t arrest or enforce our way out of every problem…It takes a community to police one. This is one of those ways you build those type of partnerships…[This kind of outreach] can reduce use of force and complaints.”
This is about the officers, too, he emphasized. “We’re not just a badge or a uniform,” he explained. “We’re human beings, too…This negativity that comes with the job sometimes–it can be easy to lose sight that there is still a human being [that is causing the problem]…We tend to build a hard shell. Otherwise, you just drown in emotions–anger, sadness, despair.”
He pointed out that suicide is a major cause of officer deaths. “We need to keep our humanity,” he said. He noted that connections made today can help officers see those they deal with as human beings and can help officers feel positive about their work. “We’re trained how to enforce the law,” he explained, “but we value our relationship with the community.”
He added, “We are much more than just enforcers. We’re also guardians. The great majority of what we do is be the protectors of our communities…From the smiles I saw and the thanks I heard, I know [the meal today] had a meaningful impact for everyone involved– including the officers.”