Viral pictures shed light on MPD's policing style

Published: Apr. 30, 2015 at 1:29 AM CDT|Updated: May. 30, 2015 at 1:29 AM CDT
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Carlos Black posted pictures on social media that show Chief Finley and other officers playing...
Carlos Black posted pictures on social media that show Chief Finley and other officers playing basketball with children on Bragg Street in West Montgomery this week. (Source: Carlos Black)
Chief Finley hopes MPD's community engagement program will improve relations (Source- WSFA 12...
Chief Finley hopes MPD's community engagement program will improve relations (Source- WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - As Baltimore works to quell violence and tension after riots this week, photos of police taken on the streets of Montgomery are striking a much different chord with the public.

Positive feedback is pouring in over the scene the viral pictures captured. The snap shots show Montgomery officers playing basketball with kids on the west side of town -- a small pick-up game that's getting reaction from across the country.

The Montgomery Police Department says it's part of an ongoing effort to connect with the community and turn the tables on the way some feel about the police.

Chief Ernest Finley and other officers hit the streets in the Highland Gardens neighborhood Wednesday night, going street to street and getting to know residents.

It is part of MPD's "Park, Walk and Talk program.” The chief is taking the program across the city.

“It's all about giving back and taking some time out of schedule to say that we care and we want to know about your issues in your community,” Finley said. “We're going to go district by district, community by community, and it's all about getting that feel for that community and also building those bonds and those relationships. We know that some communities will be more challenging than others and that's OK. We just want to build those relationships and get out there.”

Carlos Black posted the viral pictures on social media that show Chief Finley, Captain Jeff Walker, Sergeant K.D. Bowens and Lt. Zedrick Dean playing basketball with children on Bragg Street in West Montgomery this week. Thousands have shared, liked and commented on the photos -- cheering the positive interaction with police. Many said it's a welcome contrast to other scenes making headlines from Baltimore.

Black moved from Texas to Montgomery only two weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised by what he saw happening on the street where he works.

“They just started playing basketball with the kids. I just thought that was an amazing gesture for the city of Montgomery to do something like that and take place right here in this neighborhood. Being able to see the people come from behind the desk and get out in the streets means a whole lot,” Black said. “I decided to share it because of the negative connotation that's portrayed and then you see this. I thought I would show something positive.”

Other residents and business owners are applauding MPD's efforts to connect with citizens and combat crime.

Doug Williams, owner of The Last Button Tire Shop on Oak Street, met Chief Finley and other officers this week when they stopped by during their walk through the neighborhood. Williams was surprised when the chief walked up and introduced himself and shook his hand but he appreciated the attention given to the area where he lives and works.

“It was surprising to see him out. He seems concerned about what's going on in the neighborhood. And trying to find out what they need to do to curtail the crimes,” Williams said. “Since I've been here, we haven't had anybody to really show that kind of concern enough to mingle with the people in the neighborhood and find out just what's going on firsthand.”

“The visibility will not only stop crime. It'll also make people more comfortable reporting crime. It'll make people more comfortable talking to the police in general,” added Mike Williams, Highland Gardens Neighborhood Watch President. “This is where we start rebuilding trust amongst the police and the citizens.”

Chief Finley addressed the unrest in Baltimore and MPD's formula for avoiding potentially tense situations.

"It can happen anywhere but we know the main ingredient is communication, not that built up unnecessary pressure or that feeling of being oppressed or that feeling of 'us against them' so this is a way we can dissect that 'us against them' and really be personable,"  he said. 

"You can tell they're trying to change everything about the whole police situation so that was a good thing for me to see," Carlos Black added. 

His Facebook photos spurred many others to share pics they snapped of Montgomery officers interacting with the public. 

The "Park, Walk and Talk" program and community policing will be an ongoing effort. 

Finley says members of every uniformed division are required to take between 15 and 20 minutes a day to get out and walk in the community.

MPD says they'll focus on neighbors based on complaints or where there is an uptick in crime.

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