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An Iowa police department earns a grant to hire officers focused on community outreach with immigrants

Norwalk Police Department
The Norwalk Police Department won a national grant to hire officers to focus on community outreach and building relationships with immigrant communities and other minority populations within the city.

Norwalk’s chief of police Greg Staples has noticed how the city’s immigrant community has been growing for a while now. He was most inspired by a group of individuals who were helping new arrivals to the U.S. and the city with language skills and other resources. And Staples wanted the police department to do its part as well.

So he applied for a grant through the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). And Norwalk was one of the winners. Three other police departments in the state also won the hiring grant meant to "solve a problem," but the grant does not stipulate departments use the funds the way Staples plans to.

With the newly accepted funds, Staples wanted to make sure the police department had a good relationship with the new families coming to the city. That's why he plans for the new officers to focus on community outreach with immigrants and other underrepresented groups.

“I wanted an opportunity to try and build bridges with those communities. And I wanted to try and build legitimacy of our police department and things we do with those communities who might not already think of us in a high manner," he said.

The grant is enough to pay for a little more than one third of three new Norwalk police officers over a five-year period, considering training and an stipulation of the grant to keep the officer for another 12 months after the grant funds are exhausted.

Before sending in the grant application, Staples traveled around Norwalk to garner letters of support from the community. He was pleased to see others in the city also saw a need for community-building efforts and were enthusiastic to begin the process.

“I can hire these officers, have the federal government help us pay for them. And at the same time, use the extra officers to help build legitimacy and trust with our new immigrant community and those minority members of the community who may or may not have the best view of what the police department does and how we operate," Staples said.

He noted how some immigrants and refugees may have come from war-ridden areas and countries of origin riddles with violence, so he knows developing trusting relationships with the police department may take time. And Staples admitted there aren't enough officers currently on the force to devote enough time to do so.

"There's a fear by some foreigners and some immigrants that the police in the United States will treat them poorly, like they were treated in their home countries. And I wanted to remove those fears and those doubts, and I wanted to be a resource for these immigrants," he said.

Staples warned the people of Norwalk that the new hires won't happen tomorrow or even this month, as it will take time to find the right people and train them properly for their roles.

"Anybody out there wondering when would I see a difference when what I would what I hear something about it won't be tomorrow. It'll be a slow roll over time," he said as a reminder.

Staples said he's looking forward to the new hires and to furthering trust between the Norwalk community and its police department.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines