Cops and journalists have one thing in common: a lot of people don’t like them. That’s especially true in neighborhoods that police target, such as Toledo’s Beat 620, a central-city sector, including Dorr Street and Detroit Avenue, that leads the city in shootings.
In the hood, police are often regarded as intruders who abuse their authority and push people around. When police focus on a high-crime area, people who are just standing around can get rousted. It happened recently in New York, where a federal judge ruled that police were illegally stopping and frisking men of color without making an arrest or issuing a ticket.
Officer Melvin Woods of the Toledo Police Department, a 30-year veteran, understands that community policing isn’t a program; it’s the way officers treat people every day.
"If you respect people, they respect you, even if you’re taking them to jail," he said.
Officer Woods grew up in Toledo and still lives in the city. He believes, as I do, that police officers should live in the city they serve, even though residency laws are no longer in effect.
I rode with Woods recently in a neighborhood where unemployment exceeds 50 percent. People almost have to hustle to make it.
Woods frequently stopped his squad car and talked. One man on Dorr Street stared warily at Woods’ approaching squad car. When he saw the driver, he broke out in a smile and waved.
On Vance Street, Woods listened patiently to a young man who said he was stopped without cause while driving on Nebraksa Avenue. He said an officer told him to shut the (bleep) up, took his keys, and threw them at his car.
Woods gave the man a phone number and told him to go to the Public Safety Building and file a complaint with Internal Affairs.
Responding to a call last January, Woods found Faith Dashner depressed and suicidal. The family was destitute. One of Faith and Pete Dashner's three children, Cathy, 8, told Woods that she had not eaten in four days.
The next day, on his day off, Woods went to a Kroger store, bought $150 worth of groceries, grabbed some frozen steaks and chicken from his freezer, and took the food to Faith and Pete Dashner’s trailer.
"I call him my guardian angel," Mrs. Dashner told me. "I had no food in the house. He helped us -- big time."
That family will never look at a police officer the same way again.