Starting this month, the officers in the Smyrna Police Department will take a different approach when addressing the needs and concerns of residents in Smyrna with the Community Policing Unit.

The initiative is being implemented by Interim Smyrna Police Chief Norman Wood.

“Over the years we have touched on community policing but never embraced it as we should have,” Wood said. “Sometimes we get busy with responding from complaint to complaint and don’t necessarily have time to get to know our citizens, and vice versa.”

Smyrna Police Public Information Officer Brandon Dunning, who is one of two officers in the unit, said the Community Policing Unit will bridge the gap between officers and the community. He said officers are often consumed by the reactive approve of responding to one call for service after another; this approach doesn’t always allow officers the ability to stop and take the time to make personal connections with citizens or business owners within the town.

“Community Policing is based upon a partnership between the police and the community whereby the police and the community share responsibility for identifying, reducing, eliminating, and preventing problems that impact community safety and order,” Dunning said.

With the unit, the community and police work as partners to identify and prioritize problems of crime and disorder, and share the responsibility for the development and implementation of proactive problem-solving strategies, Dunning said.

CPU consists of Dunning and Sgt. Billy Eastridge, a 14-year veteran of the Smyrna Police Department. Eastridge has been in the Patrol Unit and also worked as a school resource officer for eight years. Dunning is an eight-year veteran of Smyrna PD and has worked in the Patrol Unit, the former Quality of Life Unit, and Criminal Investigations as a detective.

Dunning said the focus of the unit is implementing community crime prevention programs, attending community/town meetings, addressing complaints and issues within each neighborhood, assisting in the implementation of traffic control and security at special events, overview of the Police Athletic League, and overseeing the Citizen Auxiliary Patrol (CAP) program.

As part of the CPU, the officers will host monthly community awareness meetings at town hall. The first meeting was held July 7 at town hall. Only two residents were in attendance, but that’s OK with the officers.

“You have to crawl before you can walk. The meeting was our first ever and it was a great start,” Dunning said. “I hope that we can build on each meeting and the participation increases as this becomes more well-known and a staple within our community. For those members of the community who took time out of their personal lives to come meet with us and have an open discussion about their concerns, we applaud them and thank them for their efforts.”

Wood said the July 7 meeting was a start and while no issues were brought forth, the officers know that problems do exist. He hopes over time residents will feel more comfortable to come and speak about the issues of concern to them. The officers also recently held “Coffee with a Cop” as another way for residents to get to know the local police officers.

“We want to build relationships with the community so that we can work together to improve the safety and security of Smyrna,” Wood said. “We cannot be everywhere and see everything, and must rely on people to inform us if they see a potential problem.”