By Jimena Molina
Five years have passed since a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed a young African American man named Michael Brown. Brown’s death sparked a movement that exposed the brutality minorities suffer at the hands of the people charged with protecting them. But it also strained the relationship between police and the communities they serve.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to gain trust,” said Lt. Johnathan Bucchere of the Princeton Police Department, who’s been a cop in the area since 1999, in an interview with The Princeton Summer Journal. Communication is one of the department’s greatest assets in counteracting the problem. “We’re an open book,” he said.
The department achieves transparency by learning from past mistakes, he said. Every day when he comes to work, he reviews the previous day’s arrests. If he catches a mistake, he wants to figure out what he can learn from it.
“Our failure to learn from these incidents will lead to our failure” in the future, he said.
Princeton police work to win over the community. That’s done not through arrests, but through positive interactions. The department has regular community nights where residents and cops can talk to one another.
“It started off with coffee with a cop, but it’s expanded,” Bucchere said. “For example, recently officers made hamburgers and hot dogs for a local Little League, and the community loved it—the parents, the kids, the coaches.”
With a smile, Bucchere recalled a sign that hangs above his department door. He sees it every time he reports for duty: “Police like a champion today.” It’s a play on the Notre Dame football team motto.
Bucchere also often tells his officers: “Go out. Be guardians. Be good people.” He wants them to be the kind of officers that the people of the Princeton community can trust.