By Farinna Izquierdo
Lt. Johnathan Bucchere wears a gun in his holster, a weapon that often makes people feel threatened. But in an interview with The Princeton Summer Journal this week, Bucchere was anything but threatening: He sported a small smile and a fresh sunburn around the bridge of his nose.
Bucchere said that increasing the number of positive interactions the Princeton Police Department has with the community is a priority. They focus on reaching out to residents and establishing relationships with those around them, ensuring the safety of their fellow residents while also being shoulders to lean on.
Bucchere, who has been with the department for two decades, said the department has made progress since he started. When he was a young officer, the department was less connected with residents. “We’ve made adjustments to how we do things,” he said. “The community trusts us because we’ve given them reasons to. We’ve grown a lot in the last several years.”
A Princeton native, Bucchere detailed how one of the main priorities of the police department is to try and build trust among the people they serve. Aside from typical police work, each of the department’s four squads carries out a community project every year. One of these projects was “Coffee with a Cop,” where officers drank coffee with residents. Although this project was a great start, it wasn’t sufficient. Officers felt as if they were only meeting people rather than establishing true connections with them. They decided to put additional efforts into deeper engagement.
One day, off-duty officers bagged groceries for older shoppers. They brought burgers and hot dogs and served them for a local Little League game. The department also paid for a pool night for Princeton residents, complete with an officer dunk tank. At all of these events, officers presented themselves not as law enforcement, but as members of the community.
Police officers come into contact with many people on a daily basis. These experiences can often be negative—even if it’s just issuing a traffic ticket. Bucchere doesn’t want all of those interactions to be bad ones. “It’s critical that you police with a guardian mentality and rehabilitate those encounters,” says Bucchere, “so that it’s a positive experience.”
ICE raids and police brutality have given officers a bad reputation and ignited fear and resentment toward them. According to Bucchere, police brutality is not an issue in Princeton. While police face criticism on front-page head- lines, Bucchere reminds residents that a corrupt minority does not represent them all. Rather, the Princeton Police tries to live up to a sign hanging in their headquarters. It reads: “Police like a champion today.”