In the book “The Story of Kennett” we concluded that one of the reasons Kennett was such a great place to live, grow-up and raise a family was because of the quality of public safety. For the book, we interviewed Bill Hollsworth, the Chief of Police in Kennett Square, and others to get a sense of what was working for the community.
One of the interviews that left an impression was a young immigrant high school student who lived in the downtown area. She told us what she liked best about Kennett was how she could walk outside her home late at night, feeling completely safe. I believe a big reason why Kennett residents feel safe is because of the quality of the police department. More than that, there is the feeling that law enforcement cares about everyone and then there is the improving crime numbers.
All policing is local. It is really hard to do policing well; yet you have to and you can’t do it alone.
The Mayor of Kennett’s job, contrary to what many may believe, is not to run the town. That is the responsibility of borough council. The Mayor’s job is to oversee the police department, the entity that costs the better part of half the town budget. The effect of this partnership has been policing excellence. We don’t have issues with gangs. The kids learn early in kindergarten with their Student Resource Officer (SRO) that police officers are there for their safety.
In middle school that relationship is reinforced with a SRO from Chief Simpson’s Southern Chester County Regional Police Department. We have gone from the high school kids at The Garage after school program sneaking out the back door when the police came around to now where the kids know the officers and feel safe. The Kennett officers even marched with the town in response to the death of George Floyd.
There has been a lot of talk about defunding the police, a term derived out of frustration. When you have a police culture in Minneapolisthat allows four officers to choke a handcuffed man and a police union willing to fight for their right to do it, sometimes starting over with a clean sheet of paper is the best way to move forward.
In 2015 the President’s (Obama) Task Force on 21stCentury Policing gave us the six pillars of best practices and a roadmap to get to policing excellence. With a well-run, learning organization like our local police forces we can get there. Though to some extent we have done what Camden NJ did by building off the county resources to replace a dysfunctional police organization.
Chief Simpson is building up from the local municipalities of southern Chester Countyto develop an organization with critical mass and 24/7 coverage. This takes real leadership from the municipalities because everyone wants their own police force, but that doesn’t lead to the critical mass and sustainable budgets needed. And the police can’t do everything. I was always taught that if you’re a carpenter and your only tool is a hammer, all your problems look like nails and the answer to all our problems are not an officer with a gun. There are big issues such as the opioid crisis that we have tried to answer with policing and EMS but that is not enough.
When I presented our book “The Story of Kennett” to the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors in 2016, I reinforced how important it is to get policing right with the proper funding. Thanks to the leadership of Chief Simpson today the Southern Chester County Regional Police Force has 24 officers and is building a culture of Guardianship that is backed up with the training of a Warrior, not the other way around.
The development of this new policing structure is working well, keeping costs in line while improving overall public safety. It states in their annual report that they are following the guidelines of 21st Century policing with transparency and best practices. You can google it. It’s on the New Garden Township website.
Kennett Township is also working towards shared resources with the Kennett Borough and other municipalities. It is not about how good we are, but how fast we are getting better. There are 15,000 different police departments in the US. Southern Chester County is large enough now to be working towards accreditation which would put them within the top 10% of departments in the country.
I can’t help but think that the development of the warrior mentality is to help the young officer deal with his or her fears. Objectively policing is not that dangerous. It is less than half as dangerous as the 20th most dangerous job (Farm Manager). But fear is not rational. Nationally we lose about one officer a week killed by a shooting, but almost three citizens a day are being killed by police. One interview of a female officer that shot and killed an unarmed suspect said; “I would rather be judged by 12 of my peers than carried by 6.”
I spent one summer in the Navy as the Shore Patrol Officer in charge of patrolling the Wan Chai District of Hong Kong and thousands of drunken sailors on R&R. I watched British police and military beat the living daylights out of our men to show who was boss. The Brits had a Warrior mentality to the sailors and we Yanks were more of a Guardian mind set to “get them back to the water taxi safely’.
One night I had to go with a Detective Inspector(DI) from Scotland to an apartment where a sailorfrom one of our aircraft carriers had OD’d on drugs. The DI said to me; “Oh hell, I’ve forgotten my gun.” Then he murmured; ”That’s ok, just look out that they don’t stab you.” There were thousands of Chinese everywhere and I said; “What if they have guns?” And he said; “I wouldn’t do this job if they had guns.”
The goal should be that everyone does the job that they are trained to do best so we don’t make the police chase stray dogs, fix an opioid epidemic, or work with individuals who are off their meds. But most important we need a community with a police force that makes all of us feel safe.It is the only way to raise our kids to be great, even great police officers. If we can do this, George Floyd won’t have died in vain.