Residents discuss police-community relations

By Aracely Chavez
Pacoima, CA

Because of the violent, often fatal, acts police have committed toward people of color—such as the killings of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner and Michael Brown—some Americans currently have a negative perception of police. But recent interviews with people in the John Street neighborhood—a historically low-income neighborhood of Princeton—suggest that this is not the case here.

“I think they treat us better” because now “they even greet [us],” said 40-year-old Juan Orellana. Similarly, 35-year-old Consuelo Retanalo said that police help a lot and “do a good job.” According to local resident Joanne Rice Parker, “I respect the police…They look out for us.” Many of the sources, such as 44-year-old Oliverio Sanchez, had never had an interaction with police, but made sure to clarify that “not all” police officers are racist and sometimes need to use force on those that resist them. “To tell you the truth, they’re awesome…They don’t bother me,” said Winston McFarlane.

In 2015, the Princeton Police Department implemented a new strategic plan, which focuses on community involvement. According to NJ.com, the department hosts monthly meetings and a “Ride Along” program to increase community engagement. In fact, the plan states they will work towards getting every business owner to know at least one officer by name. (Asked whether they had noticed changes in recent years, some residents—including 42-year-old Erica Delcid, 39-year-old Jose Cruz, and 35-year-old Consuelo Retanalo—who have lived there for decades said they didn’t see anything different in policing tactics.)

Others, however, just don’t feel comfortable with police. “I don’t know if I feel protected. I definitely wouldn’t go to the police first … They come forty-five minutes [after they are called]”, said a 27-year-old African-American employee at Princeton University. Delcid and Cruz also said the police tend to roam around their neighborhood more than seemed necessary.

The state is seeking to purchase body cameras to prevent future confusion or alleged misconduct against officers. The need for these cameras was highlighted by the confrontation earlier this year between Princeton University Professor Imani Perry and local police officers—when she was arrested over an unpaid three-year-old parking ticket.

Another factor that may explain Princetonians’ satisfaction with police—at a time when much of America looks at them with fear—is the town’s low crime rate. According to a study reported on NJ.com, Princeton is “among the safest college towns in the country, with a violent crime rate second lowest among college towns.”

“In Trenton you automatically get judged. If you’re walking on the street randomly … they throw you against the wall and begin patting you down,” said McFarlane, noting that the crime rate in Trenton, where he is from, is higher than in Princeton.

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