10 Reasons Every City Needs a Community Outreach Officer

10 Reasons Every City Needs a Community Outreach Officer
Written by Wendy Morris & Greta Brackman

Puyallup Police Officer Jeff Bennett has a role unique in the field of police work.  He is the department’s Community Outreach Officer on the Problem Oriented Policing Unit.  As such, he is tasked with keeping the peace among those experiencing homelessness and concerned citizens.  In conversation, Officer Bennett identified some of what it takes to do his job, and why every city needs a Community Outreach Officer.

Here are the top ten reasons cities should invest in this role:

  1. It takes an extraordinary officer to cope with the needs of someone experiencing homelessness. Communities need someone with experience and utmost patience to work with its homeless residents, which can involve imminent crises due to instability, violence, hopelessness, serious mental illness, etc. If the job was easy, everyone could do it.
  1. Sometimes people need an advocate as they may not be able to advocate for themselves. Whether they struggle with mental health, addiction issues, or mistrust in law enforcement and/or social workers, people need someone who is willing to reach out to help them identify necessary services… someone like a Community Outreach Officer.
  1. “Whack-a-mole” isn’t an effective tactic for eradicating homelessness. This approach forces people to relocate to less visible areas, typically away from services, and does not tackle the crises of extremely limited affordable housing and support.
  1. It can take time to establish trust with any person, especially someone experiencing homelessness. Any number of crises can contribute to a person’s mistrust in those trying to help. Building rapport indicates that people experiencing these crises have found reason to believe they are worthy of positive attention, time, and energy. This is especially true for those fleeing a violent relationship or those who have experienced exploitation.
  1. People often call police to remove those experiencing homelessness from where they currently stay. Many community members believe that because it is “not my house, not my problem,” they turn to police to address the issue. Addressing trespassing issues (as a result of a lack of shelter) is something that a Community Outreach Officer can assist with and diffuse immediate tensions that may arise.
  1. They are more aware of the history of local individuals experiencing homelessness. A Community Outreach Officer is able to connect with other officers to share information about those without shelter, and help them to understand reasons they are experiencing homelessness.
  1. They know how to make suggestions to stay under the radar. A Community Outreach Officer can provide suggestions to unsheltered people about where they can exist so they are less at-risk of harassment from others in the community. While we hope that people are willing to treat each other with decency, no matter their situation, it is not the reality for many who are experiencing homelessness.
  1. There are a growing number of violent crimes against those experiencing homelessness. People in this situation deserve to be as safe as anyone else in the community. Community Outreach Officers can help them identify ways to be safe while unhoused.  No one deserves to live in fear, be subject to violence, or lose their life because they do not have a safe place to live.
  1. One-on-one interaction affirms people’s humanity. Many residents in our community will ignore or pretend not to see someone who is experiencing homelessness. A Community Outreach Officer, like Officer Bennett, treats those without shelter with the same respect as those who are housed, and takes time to listen to them.  They know that a person’s living situation does not make them any less deserving of kindness, respect, and protection.
  1. There is no one currently in place in other communities doing what Officer Jeff Bennett does in Puyallup. Community Outreach Officers are willing to advocate for people who are experiencing homelessness, to identify resources and services, and connect with them in a way that may help reduce their fear and foster trust.







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