A good, positive day in the park: no drug deals, no riffraff, no arrests. It was just police making a good-faith effort to mend and better relationships with area residents.
That was the vibe and mission of Spring Fest in Barrett Brothers Park Saturday at St. Louis Ave. and Goodfellow Blvd. in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood. The event was started last year by 5th District Commander Mike Mueller.
Police officers from the district, as well as Police Chief John Hayden and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, mingled with residents, offering up-close interactions with law enforcement’s helicopter, SWAT vehicle, horses and K-9 unit. As you might imagine, the Polar Cops Ice Cream Truck was a big hit, and so were the cops themselves as people got to see the “human side” of those who police their neighborhood.
“We wanted to interact with the community and show a softer side and show them that we’re people too,” Capt. Mueller said, wearing a short-sleeve civilian shirt and khaki-colored shorts.
“I think they see us as robots when we’re in our uniforms, but this way we all get to know each other on a different level. We have families too,” Mueller said between chats with community members.
Hayden said the fest was also effective in helping the department solve crimes because when residents meet police and talk to them they tend to trust them more.
“These types of relaxed, non-enforcement community efforts really help bridge the gap between the police and residents, and when we ask the community to assist in solving crimes, the likelihood is better,” Hayden said.
Nearby resident Nick Barnes, who attended the event with his family, agreed.
“People get to interact with officers that they see in the neighborhood, and they respect those officers,” Barnes said.
Dajuana Blunt, 26, who had been handed a flier about the event a day earlier from a district cop, said, “Not all police are bad. I want my son to know and understand that.”
She went on to say that the event really gave back to kids. There were bounce houses, games, free food, ice cream and drinks. Many children wore police badge stickers and fed the police horse.
Several community organizations were also on hand with information tables. The Urban League passed out applications for utility bill help, free home repair and weatherization.
CHIPS (Community Heath in Partnership Services), a free clinic, offered information and blood pressure and blood sugar tests.
“There’s a lot of people walking around with high blood pressure and blood sugar but they don’t have health insurance, and we want to let them know that we’re here, so we’re glad that the police department asked us to be a part of it,” said Doria Daniels, project assistant for CHIPS.
Alderman Jeffrey Boyd of the 22nd Ward praised Mueller’s effort.
“He’s doing real police work, but he’s also doing non-traditional things, and it shows that they want to know the community,” Boyd said.
Deanna Jenkins, the 5th District Community Outreach Officer who does the planning for the Spring Fest, said she would like to see parks all over St. Louis do the same thing, adding that she chose Barrett Brothers Park because her first juvenile murder case was nearby.
“Parks need to be used for positive things, not just drug deals and riffraff,” she said.
Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.