By Kim Steele
Harker Heights Herald
The Harker Heights Police Department is offering a wide array of crime prevention and protection services through its Community Services Division.
"We're the eyes and ears of the police department," said officer Dave Haley. "We see what's going on because we're out there dealing with the needs of our citizens and business owners. And Chief (Mike) Gentry relies on us to tell him what we can do to make things better for those who live and work here."
Haley, who has worked in Community Services for about seven years and currently is its only member, handles everything from the bicycle patrol to classes at area schools to volunteer efforts. Haley will be getting another officer to help him with the growing program this summer.
The Community Services Division offers free home security inspections, takes surveys to help improve the police department's interaction with the community, helps set up Neighborhood Watch programs, runs the Citizen Police Academy and is in charge of the Citizens Volunteer Program.
Also, the division gives free classes in Harker Heights elementary schools and provides KIDDO cards for parents with a photograph and vital information about their children. Also, the division offers free home safety classes for area groups and organizations, and participates in community events.
Roosevelt Wilson, administrative sergeant for the police department and Haley's boss, said the Community Services Division is popular and continues to grow. In fact, said Wilson, the city considers the division so important that it has a separate budget for its programs.
In 2010, the department estimated that Community Services would provide 130 programs, said Wilson, but the division actually ran 157 programs. In 2011, the department estimated providing 125 programs and ended up running 253 programs. Wilson said the department estimates 160 programs in 2012.
"This division gives us a good working knowledge of our citizen base," said Wilson. "If the department doesn't have a good relationship with people, it can't succeed. I see this division growing a lot more as the population grows. Our chief believes in saying yes when people call, so that's what we try to do."
Pulling out a kit with several deadbolt locks and a wooden block outfitted with strike plates, or metal-rimmed holes for bolts, Haley said he periodically performs free home security inspections for residents. Those include making sure the homes have the correct types of screws, deadbolts and safety locks.
Haley said his inspections are certified by the Texas Department of Insurance, which allows homeowners to receive a certificate that will save them 5 to 20 percent off their insurance premiums. Home security inspections are scheduled by appointment and include recommendations for improvements.
"Homeowners are shocked when I tell them that new homes are the easiest to break into," said Haley. "They don't have the proper screws and hasps. Homeowners can update for under $20 and make their homes three times safer. Just replacing the ¾-inch screws with 3-inch screws in the strike plate can triple the strength."
Haley said the division began taking citizen surveys about three years ago to discover how the police department can improve. The survey includes community concerns, such as the most significant crime issues in the city, as well as neighborhood concerns, including the Neighborhood Watch Program.
Haley said the Neighborhood Watch Program is an important way to make sure houses in various neighborhoods are being watched while their owners are at work or on vacation. Haley said the program is gearing up for summer, and he just had 1,000 brochures printed so he can hand them out.
Currently, there are 10 active Neighborhood Watch programs in the city, but Haley would like to see more of the resident-run programs. Haley said he is available to come out to interested neighborhoods, meet with the residents and help get their watch programs off the ground.
Another program run by the division is the annual Citizen Police Academy, available free to those living or working in Harker Heights. The division is now taking applications for a 12-week academy scheduled in February. Participants learn criminal investigation, use of force, traffic enforcement and more.
They also make traffic stops on volunteers from previous academies who portray unruly drivers and take a field trip to the Bell County Jail. The academy, which started in 1996, usually has about 20 students, said Haley, and students must be at least 17 years old.
"The biggest thing participants do is get a working knowledge of what police officers do," said Haley. "We're not always sitting around in cars eating doughnuts. Almost 95 percent of an officer's time is spent helping citizens, from changing tires to finding a lost child to handling disagreements."
Academy graduates can go on to become members of the division's Citizens Volunteer Program, helping out with the house watch program, in the police department or at the Harker Heights Pet Adoption Center. Haley said volunteers put in 1,946 hours in 2011. Currently, there are eight active volunteers.
Two volunteers, Robert Coyne, 71, and Jerry Spradlin, 72, each logged 2,380 miles, 1,400 house watches and 185 donated hours in 2011 for the division.
The men have ridden together twice a week for six years in Coyne's truck, checking the houses of residents deployed in the military or enjoying vacation.
"We've talked to a number of the owners who are regularly on our list, and they always say they feel pretty good about their place being watched while they are gone," said Coyne. "We want people to know we will be checking. For us, there's satisfaction in knowing we are doing something that's useful."
Haley also teaches a variety of classes to adults and children in clubs and schools. Classes include winter driving for the elderly, domestic violence prevention, home safety for military wives, motorcycle and bicycle safety, crime prevention, bullying, drugs and smoking, and texting while driving.
"I love the classes, especially for kids," said Haley, who also gives tours of the police department. "I think the whole future lies in our children, and I want to make a positive impression on them while they can be molded. If we do that while they're young, they'll come to us when they're older."
Contact Kim Steele at email@example.com or (254) 501-7567.
If you go
The Community Services Division will be offering free KIDDO cards to Harker Heights residents from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Harker Heights Walmart. Children will be photographed for their cards, which also will contain their vital information. Parents can keep the cards and present them to police if their child is missing.