Q&A: Hawthorne officer unites police department and community in fighting crime

imageIt takes a village to stop crime, in the eyes of Lt. Steven Romero of the Hawthorne Police Department.

In 2007, Romero developed CHAT (Citizens of Hawthorne Action Team), a community-based network that combines neighborhood watch programs, citizen safety patrols, emergency preparedness education and philanthropic efforts to reduce crime and build community in Hawthorne. Romero, a Hawthorne native, divides his time between supervising the entire Hawthorne Police Department patrol division, coaching the wrestling team at La Serna High School in Whittier, and completing a master’s degree in public administration at California State University, Fullerton.

Intersections South LA’s Lisa Rau sat down with Romero to talk about his role in the Hawthorne Police Department and the police department’s role in its community.

Lisa Rau: What makes Hawthorne different from other cities, in terms of its relationship with the police department?

Steven Romero: We’ve been able to establish a continual collaboration among both private and public sectors. Over here, we have the private sector being part of the entire wheel. They have say-so. They have input. They collectively work with local government and public safety agencies to make sure that these missions are achieved. Usually in other cities, that’s still bifurcated. You don’t have the two working together as a group.

LR: Have you seen any changes in crime since CHAT began?

SR: Absolutely. In fact, this last holiday season, we saw a drastic reduction in burglaries to autos, purse snatches and theft-related crimes at the shopping centers when the CHAT program was out there doing community patrols because it’s a high-visibility program. It’s a deterrent. We absolutely experienced less of a police response because these groups were out there doing proactive patrolling.

LR: Police departments all have their own styles. How would you describe the Hawthorne Police Department’s law enforcement style?

SR: We went from a law enforcement philosophy to more of a community-oriented philosophy. It’s just understanding and adopting the private sector into law enforcement, sharing the responsibility and working together with community members to solve the problems. Before, we would just throw a bunch of cops at the problem. But now, we actually turn to technology, the private sector and participants who come in and give us recommendations and even help us with developing programs.

LR: You mentioned technology. Do you mean social media? What kind of technology has the department implemented?

SR: We have a Twitter network that we use to get information out to the community. We use Facebook here. The CHAT website is a way to reach out to the community. We try to be innovative in the sense of being ahead of the curve and trying to stay in front of technology.

LR: What kind of things are posted the Twitter account?

SR: We publish real-time situations. If we’re responding to a crime and we don’t want the community to come into that particular environment or area, we’ll throw it on Twitter, and that’ll publish out to anybody who follows us on there. Like, hey, this area is closed for this reason.

On Facebook, they can submit inquiries to us about our policies and procedures, incidents that are taking place, or incidents that have taken place.

LR: I understand you recently went back to school as a graduate student. Can you tell me about that?

SR: My emphasis is in finance with a secondary emphasis in statistics. Basically, the purpose of attending that program with those particular emphases is because in law enforcement, we’re typically taught how to be law enforcers. However, we’re not really taught to manage public assets or how to actually procure assets and be a manager of everything you’re entrusted with.

LR: A lot of police departments are encountering financial strain due to budget cuts. How has this affected your department?

SR: All of our employees are taking furloughs. Mandatory furloughs. We did do some cutbacks in all budget areas, everything from equipment and operating costs to salaries and benefits. The employees have been very flexible, and we’ve all kind of worked together to try to get through these times. And I think we’re doing pretty well compared to some of our local agencies. Just the furloughs, I think, are the biggest strain for the employees.

Day-to-day operations, we’re still providing the same service that we did even before budget cuts, and even before these last two years of financial strains. We’re maintaining. Actually, in the process of restructuring our entire police department, we’re creating new offices, new assignments. So we’re actually ahead of the game, I think.

LR: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the Hawthorne Police Department?

SR: I’ve been very happy with my agency, and I would challenge any other agency to adopt some of our ways. And I think the citizens here are getting probably the best service that they’ll get from any agency across the country. We truly set the bar very high here, and I truly think we deliver a service that other agencies do not.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Photo Credit: Lisa Rau

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