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|Community policing pays off in West Monroe|
Detectives Matt Graves and Jay Rigal don't know all of the residents in West Monroe's Riverbend area, but they're working on it.
Graves and Rigal are part of the West Monroe Police Department's Neighborhood Stabilization Team, which was formed to establish long-term partnerships with agencies, businesses and residents of the southside of West Monroe.
Graves has been with the two-member team since its inception in January 2006. Rigal came on board in October 2007.
Their overall goal is to improve the quality of life and to make neighborhoods a safer place to live.
They're doing "a little bit of everything" to meet that goal, Graves said.
"Our biggest goal is to bridge the gap between the police department and the community," Graves said. "We address all complaints, whether that's a street sign down, busted sidewalks all the way up to narcotics sales."
"We obviously don't go out and put up a street sign, but a lot of times, members of the community don't know who to get in contact with to remedy a problem," Graves continued. "That's kind of where we fall in."
When residents complain about such things as busted side walks or no street signs, the detectives relay the complaint to the appropriate city or state departments to resolve the issues.
Each day, Graves and Rigal patrol the neighborhoods in the Riverbend area, talk with residents they know, and they try to meet as many new people as possible. They hand out their business cards to let residents know that anytime the residents have an issue or a problem that needs to be addressed the officers are available to serve them.
Eventually, a drop box will be placed outside the West Monroe Community Center. Graves and Rigal are stationed there. The drop box will allow residents to drop off tips, suggestions and comments anonymously.
The police department has one Neighborhood Stabilization Team located in West Monroe. The department would like to have a team set up in all four zones of the city, but that will depend on the city's budget and the department's manpower.
The team does not draw from the police department's unit assigned to Riverbend. That unit still patrols the southside of West Monroe and handles any police-related complaints.
Sometimes, though, the unit is not able to spend as much time with citizens because they may be called to another area of the community for another matter. That's where Graves and Rigal are called on to step in to assist.
Both detectives have found that citizens typically prefer dealing with them since most of the residents know the officers.
They have earned the trust of many of the residents in Riverbend; citizens are more willing to talk to them.
One time Graves was at a convenience store where someone had thrown a brick through the window. A man riding a bicycle saw Graves and gave him the description of the suspect and the direction the man took after committing the crime.
"Before leaving, he said…because I was there, and he knew me…he stopped to give me this information," Graves said. "Some people will talk to us because when they see us, they don't see the polyester uniform, big gold badge and the belt-full of equipment. It's not as intimidating."
One of the benefits of being located at the community center is both detectives meet students on a daily basis.
"They know who we are when they see us and we've been able to establish a relationship with them early on, so they don't see us as someone to be afraid of," Rigal said.
Graves and Rigal are there anytime a student wants to talk about anything, but usually all the children want to talk about is police work.
Both detectives strive to be good role models for the children, and they want to make sure the students know that being their friend does carry some weight. Rigal and Graves expect the children to stay out of trouble and they hope they'll think 'What would detective Jay and detective Matt think about this?' before doing anything that might be wrong.
Rigal and Graves say they prefer community policing and believe it is having positive affects within the neighborhoods. They will continue to patrol the streets and meet as many new people as possible. When they are not on the streets during the day, they'll be at the community center available for residents to stop by to talk about anything that's on their minds.
Riverbend community residents also can call the detectives to discuss any issue affecting their neighborhood. Graves can be reached at 237-2521; Rigal can be reached at 237-4797.