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Police program about building trust in Heart of Boynton Beach
Thursday, 03 March 2016 22:24

Attiyya AnthonySun Sentinel
March 2, 2016
Boynton Beach officers well-received in heart of the city
Police officers are using their feet to build relationships in the Heart of Boynton Beach.
On Wednesday, Officer Terrance Paramore and Sgt. Henry Diehl ditched their vehicles and walked instead to chat with business owners and residents in the city's primarily African-American and Caribbean downtown community.
They even played a little football.
The officers will be there six days out of the week as part of the Neighborhood Officer Policing Program, a joint partnership between the city's police department and redevelopment agency.
"It's about getting out and taking down barriers," Diehl said. "If we have a positive relationship with the community, it decreases crime."
The program requires Paramore and Diehl to immerse themselves in the community through foot, bicycle and Segway patrols. The goal is simple: to build community trust and spur redevelopment, officials say.
Although the program is in its infancy, it's already helping to change the image of police officers in a neighborhood where some residents distrust them, residents say.
On Wednesday, E.J. Hamilton, 19, played a game of catch with Paramore — an interaction he never thought he'd have with a law enforcement officer.
"It's nice that the police didn't just come up and mess with us for no reason like they usually do," Hamilton said. "We don't cause no harm, maybe just play a little loud music."
"I'm glad to see that they are trying to create a bond and not let us have a hatred towards them," Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he is part of the family of Corey Jones, a Boynton Beach drummer who was killed by a plainclothes Palm Beach Gardens officer during an encounter at a highway exit ramp last year. Hamilton voiced his frustration over Jones' death.
"That's part of the struggle," said Stephanie Slater, Boynton Beach police spokeswoman. "The shooting didn't happen here, but there is still a mistrust. It's been difficult."
Still, progress is being made.
Verna Johnson, 58, said that police presence seems to be helping the neighborhood already.
"I don't see as many young people just standing around," Johnson said. "It feels safer."
According to Slater, the Heart of Boynton experiences a variety of crimes, from trespassing to burglaries to narcotics to shootings.
Johnson, who has lived in the area for five years, said she regularly hears gunshots, but would like for that to change because her grandkids live in the area.
"Seeing them on their [Segways] and walking around is good because we're more likely to talk to them than if we see them in their police cars," she said. "I think it's really going to help."
Officials say that dedication to the program will determine whether it's a success.
"We didn't get all this mistrust in one day," Diehl said. "It happened over time. It'll take time to change that. … If we are committed to this program, we will be able to take down years of walls and barriers."
The city's redevelopment agency allotted $200,000 to lease out a police substation at 404 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and staff the program. If the program is deemed a success, more officers will begin patrolling at the end of the year.

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