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Why community solidarity matters

Law enforcement must not lose focus of one of its most fundamental missions: building strong relationships with ALL of our communities

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Chief Nick Borges addresses the community during Juneteenth celebrations.

Photo/Nick Borges

The city of Seaside, located on the central California coast, has a population of about 34,000. This small town once had a reputation for being impacted by gang violence and drug addiction.

As a native of the area, I can say the relationship between the police and the community has not always been one of unity. However, the Seaside Police Department has worked tirelessly to strengthen community trust. We are not perfect, but our outreach has been received with open arms.

reaching out to the community

Like many law enforcement agencies, our department felt compelled to speak out against the senseless and cruel death of George Floyd. Our audience was our community. I have served nearly 18 years as a law enforcement official, and I wanted the community to know how our police department felt about the conduct of the officers that resulted in George Floyd’s death. I wanted to speak to every member of the public and tell them we did not condone the actions of the officers in the case.

I was met with resistance from police colleagues, residents and even close friends. I was told, “Now is not the time. Things are too tense. Give the community space and stay in the police station when there are protests at City Hall.”

I understood the concern of people with this view, but I wholeheartedly disagreed. I was born and raised on the Monterey Peninsula, which encompasses Seaside and I have family currently living in Seaside. I consider myself part of the community as do many of the officers at the Seaside Police Department.

On June 5, local faith-based leaders held a prayer vigil in front of our police department. Just before the event, several Seaside officers agreed to join me in participating in the vigil. As the vigil began, one of the faith-based leaders called for me to say a few words. I was not expecting to speak, and I was surprised. I was also honored that the police were being given an opportunity to speak in light of all the tension in the country. I could feel this was a moment that many in attendance sought to hear from their police.

In a spontaneous and emotional statement, I told the crowd what I and many of our officers had said they would have done if they were next to George Floyd on May 25, 2020: “We would’ve stopped it.” The crowd burst into applause and showed obvious gratitude.

Several people approached me after the event and told me they needed to hear that from the police. One person said that they had heard police leaders say they condemn the actions of the officers in the George Floyd incident, but to hear other police would have intervened and stopped it meant so much to them.

I shared with the crowd the comments about how many people suggested our officers “lay low” and give people space during such a contentious time. When I said I would not do that because Seaside is my community and we are united, the crowd erupted in cheer once again. The faith-based leaders asked leaders and police officers to join them in prayer and solidarity in front of the police department. This moment was the beginning of a powerful day to come on June 19, also known as Juneteenth.

Unity for a brighter future

Several days before June 19, our police department was informed members of our community would be gathering to celebrate Juneteenth to recognize the abolition of slavery in 1865.

As the officers prepared a safety plan for a typical large gathering, we discussed our role and how celebratory June 19 is for our community and country. We ultimately decided we would attend the event early and ask the organizers what role they would like us to play for the event.

I spoke with a long-time Seaside resident who I will refer to as Ms. Lisa. Ms. Lisa took me by surprise when she asked that the Seaside Police Department accept a large Black Lives Matter banner, during a ceremonial removal of it, so it could be entrusted to the police to have it placed into the Seaside archives through the Art and History Commission.

I was overwhelmed with pride knowing our community was not only including the police in such a meaningful day but taking a stance of unity for a brighter future. Seaside’s mayor joined several community leaders in removing the banner that had been placed above the police department by city officials weeks earlier. Ceremonially, the banner was folded and handed over to me to accept on behalf of the police department.

It was a powerful message that we are united, and we will move forward together. I spoke to the crowd directly from the heart. What came to me was very simple. I told the community I loved every one of them. Seaside officers and I were embraced by the community, reminding all of us we are united.

Law enforcement must not lose focus of one of its most fundamental missions: building strong relationships with ALL of our communities. The national conversations will continue, and we must remember that out of tragedy and struggle, something positive can happen if we allow it to.

Perhaps one of the most profound takeaways I have learned from my community is a basic principle in life: listen, speak from the heart and be open-minded. We can never make changes and unite unless we become vulnerable and listen to those willing to speak. We must be present at this moment and come together as we shape our future.

NEXT: How to police from the heart in your community

Nick Borges is the acting police chief for the Seaside (California) Police Department. He has been with the department for 19 years and has served as a field training officer, detective, corporal, sergeant, commander, deputy chief and SWAT commander. Chief Borges is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, session 277.