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Opinion: Relationships are key to rebuilding trust in police

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Opinion: Relationships are key to rebuilding trust in police

Originally published June 4 on the San Jose Mercury News

We have been witnesses to the police abuse by several rogue police officers in Minneapolis. I am disgusted as many of you are. They have tarnished the badge, and it will take years to heal and rebuild trust. San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia said it well while addressing police recruits, “The actions of one, impacts us all.”

As a retired veteran of the San Jose Police Department, I am truly saddened at the recent actions and violent protests across this country and in my beloved city. The destruction of property and senseless lawlessness has brought our communities to its knees. In the wake of recent incidents involving police use of force and other issues, the legitimacy of the police has been questioned in many communities.

Shop with a Cop Foundation of Silicon Valley has been working tirelessly, rebuilding trust for the past 12 years. We believe in diversity and inclusion. We are an all-volunteer organization that fosters mutual respect between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Through engendering trust in the community and humanizing the person behind the badge, children see police officers through a positive lens. We strive to build bridges of collaboration and strategically invest in education, leadership development and capacity building programs to help under-served youth achieve their fullest potential.

Life is about relationships. We rely on the greatest force multiplier: the people we serve, whether it’s in your neighborhood, in your church, at your job, or among family members. It’s about relationships, it’s about the human connection. Treating people with respect, treating people with dignity is not a matter of resources. Every contact we make is the beginning of a relationship.  The damage caused by the actions of those police officers only makes our work in the community that much harder.

Over the years, Shop with a Cop SV has reached more than 1,000 children with our reading literacy program, “Readers are Leaders.” This program has shown success and is focused on disrupting the stubborn achievement gap in Title I schools. It has been my contention for many years now that the best path to have law enforcement be better perceived by the public is to engage with the youth; work with kids.

Last year we hosted more than 220 special children who earned their way by improving their reading skills with a community breakfast and holiday shopping spree with a uniformed officer by their side. They spent a day with a local hero. We changed perceptions that day. It left an indelible image on a young child. For many of them, it was the only holiday experience they would have. Shop with a Cop SV has also distributed more than 2,000 needed backpacks and school supplies when children return to school and more than 5,000 books so children can have books for their home libraries.

Most recently, in collaboration with SJ Shipkits, uniformed officers from the California Highway Patrol, SJPD and Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department, we set up a pop-up food bank at Los Arboles Elementary School and distributed 200 food boxes along with new, Disney-themed books for children to read while isolating at home. We have been lauded by teachers, school superintendents, chiefs of police, local, state and federal elected officials and donors for our work in the community.

There is so much more work to be done and we cannot do this alone. I urge you to support us so we can have safer communities in the future.  This is our defining moment. Our path forward must be built on trust. Help us change the narrative.

Darrell Cortez is the Founder/Executive Director of Shop with a Cop SV. For more information on Shop with a Cop SV go to www.shopwithacopsv.org


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