The Palm Springs Police Department collected 1,500 pieces of evidence last week, and none of it is headed for storage.
The evidence came in the form of sticky notes applied to boards displayed during five community events throughout the city. Roughly 400 residents who turned out for the events — designed as part workshop and part town hall — placed the notes on the boards, telling police exactly what their priorities should be.
For Cindy Madsen, her husband Craig Madsen, and neighbor Bruce Juenger, the chance to work directly with Police Chief Andy Mills and his leadership team during the final event Saturday at Demuth Park not only allowed for a closer connection to the people who patrol the city but the opportunity to help fight crime simply by showing up.
The three Miralon residents all listed violent crime, specifically the sound of gunshots from nearby neighborhoods, as their top priorities for police to focus on in their section of the city.
“Everybody needs to be engaged to be part of problem-solving,” Craig Madsen said after the Demuth Park event.
Madsen’s remarks are likely to be music to Mills’ ears. He specifically designed the events as listening sessions to collect as much feedback from residents as possible.
“There has to be some level of commitment on the part of the community,” Mills said before Saturday’s event as he looked back on the four others held Feb. 15 through 18. “You can’t just sit on Nextdoor and complain and not be part of the solution.”
Being part of the solution was simple for four dozen residents who attended the Demuth Park event and those who showed up throughout the week. Members of the police department facilitated the workshops, walking them through the agenda and encouraging participation. First, residents listed their crime-fighting priorities on the sticky notes, with red being the most urgent. Then they gathered in groups to offer words and phrases that the department should use when crafting a new mission statement.
Among the words and phrases offered Saturday were engagement, transparency, availability, understanding, and professionalism. Similar terms were provided throughout the week, making it clear that residents want the police department to be more visible and engaged in the community while upholding high standards of fairness and professionalism.
What differed, however, were police priorities residents in different sections of the city identified. In the north, residents were most concerned about violence, particularly repeated incidents of gunfire; in the center of the city, ongoing issues with crimes and drug use by homeless community members were the priority; in the south, police were told property crimes should be the focus.
Mills said he plans to assign a lieutenant to oversee operations in each of the three sections. Those lieutenants will direct officers to focus on the priorities identified by the residents in each area. That’s a departure from the department’s current practice, he said, which often sees police simply scrambling to cover reports of crimes throughout the city as they come in.
“If you’re focused on everything, you’re focused on nothing,” Mills told the audience Saturday.
Of 106 funded positions, Mills said only about 75 are currently patrolling the city due to injury, vacancies, and the need to devote 10 officers to Palm Springs International Airport. Still, he’s not convinced more police are the solution, saying Saturday that he will seek to hire an outside consultant to advise the city on appropriate staffing levels.
“This needs to be the safest city in this valley,” he told the crowd. “It’s going to take time. Big ships turn slowly.”
If remarks during and after the past week’s events are any indication, the community appears to understand. Most who spoke afterward said they recognize that the department is stretched thin, that officers are often limited in what they can do, and that change takes time. For now, simply asking the community to be involved is appreciated.
“I appreciate that these guys have better things to do with their days off,” said Cindy Madsen after Mills informed the audience that his staff had all volunteered to work the weekend event. “I’ve been highly impressed, and this is greatly appreciated.”