In November, a string of home break-ins put Bellingham residents on edge. The burglaries followed a pattern: multiple suspects breaking into homes, particularly on sunny days when residents were out. One neighborhood after another got hit.
Christy Nieto, an 11-year Bellingham resident, and her Birchwood neighbors felt the unease. They flocked to their neighborhood association meeting to see Dante Alexander.
Alexander and Eric Osterkamp are Neighborhood Police Officers, dedicated exclusively to neighborhood duty as part of a program created by police chief Clifford Cook that debuted in January 2015. “Everyone I talk to, and myself, love it,” said Nieto. “We actually get to know the police officers…They’re approachable, easy to talk to.”
During the break-ins, Alexander and Osterkamp visited association meetings, giving citizens information. How were the crooks getting in? What types of houses are they hitting? What are they stealing? How do we make our homes safer? Nieto said the burglaries eventually stopped. But the information helped empower residents.
NPOs also answer emails and phone calls — check cob.org to contact them—and deal with everything from noise complaints to suspected drug houses.
At a time when fatal clashes between police and citizens have prompted national outrage and angst, the NPOs’ work can help prevent an us-vs.-them mentality. Personal connections help. As an NPO, “I can spend 20 to 30 minutes with (residents). They feel they can be heard,” said Alexander, an eight-year police veteran.
Alexander and Osterkamp split Bellingham’s 25 neighborhoods. That’s about 40,000 people each. The NPO program has spawned Bellingham Neighbors Together, which launched this year and seeks volunteers to partner with police. See cob.com for more information.