After pushing its active officers toward increased community engagement, the Mobile Police Department (MPD) is including the same focus in the training cadets receive in its police academy.

Now, in addition to learning defense tactics and emergency vehicle operations, new cadets will be engaging with residents throughout the city of Mobile in an effort to “create relationships with the community” the officers will eventually serve.

“This is an opportunity for our cadets to engage with citizens while learning to protect and serve,” Mayor Sandy Stimpson said. “By including community engagement in the recruits’ initial training, both the cadets and the citizens begin to see each other from different perspectives. Making these connections in the community early on will help transform the relationship between the police force and our neighborhoods.”

while the initiative is the first of its kind for MPD cadets, Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber pushed the importance of similar community engagement to sworn officers during his tenure as MPD chief over the past four years.

Though the cadet program was only intended to be a pilot, city officials were quick to extend it after a partnership with the Youth Empowered for Success (YES) initiative Stimpson launched in 2016.

Through the YES program, MPD participated in activities at a number of community centers last week while Mobile County’s public schools were out for spring break.

“We need to provide our most vulnerable youth access to a safe, productive enrichment that offers recreational and athletic programs, especially during long periods of time when they are out of school like spring break,” Stimpson added.

The Mobile Police Department plans to start incorporation “community engagement” into the training police academy cadets go through. (YouTube, City of Mobile)

That’s why the newest group of cadets spent part of their time last week playing kickball, dodgeball, basketball and board games with youth at those community centers.

The MPD also conducted a joint training exercise with Mobile Fire-Rescue to demonstrate how to operate emergency equipment and vehicles. Students were also able to interact with the dogs from MPD’s K-9 unit as well as horses from its mounted unit.

According to MPD, the pilot was “so successful” that it plans to make community engagement “an official part of cadet training for every recruiting class moving forward.”

In a video released by Stimpson’s administration this week, Recreation Task Force member Shadrach Collins Jr. said the program could easily be a model for law enforcement agencies around the country, calling it a “win-win” for officers and members of the community.

“It’s a simple idea, but it only makes sense to have police officers [do this] in the beginning of their training,” Collins said. “They’re teaching them how to drive a car properly, they’re teaching them how to handle weapons, but this way, they’re actually learning how to interact with the community that they’re going to police later on.”

Future academy classes will likely participate in activities intended to build relationships with older Mobilians as well — serving meals, delivering gifts and visiting senior centers in addition to their participation in the community centers.