Police work in the 21st century is targeting community engagement and bridge-building as ways for police departments to address threats to community safety.
Numerous outreach programs emerging around the state are doing so in collaboration with the nonprofit organization Serve & Connect. The organization's founder, Kassy Alia Ray, will discuss its work during several sessions on July 18 and 19 at the Municipal Association of South Carolina Annual Meeting.
Kassy Alia Ray is the chief executive officer and founder of Serve & Connect. Photo: Serve & Connect.
The organization believes, Alia Ray said, that partnerships between police and the neighborhoods they service can help officers address the immediate conditions that can threaten community safety.
Efforts to engage a community can come through many channels. As an example, Alia Ray pointed to Greg's Groceries, a collaboration with the Harvest Hope Food Bank, Columbia Police Department and Swansea Police Department that gives those police departments boxes of shelf-stable food to keep in patrol cars to help officers address hunger in the field. The program also helped deliver food to displaced residents of the Allen Benedict Court apartments in Columbia after a deadly gas leak.
The Greg’s Groceries program allows police officers to help address hunger issues
they encounter when patrolling. Photo: Serve & Connect.
Serve & Connect is also involved with the Daddy & Me 5K sponsored by the Springdale Police Department. The origins of that program come from former Springdale Police Chief Kevin Cornett, who said that he has repeatedly seen negative interactions between the police and young people lacking a parental figure. Cornett believes an active father figure can help stop bad influences. The Daddy & Me 5K celebrates the roles of fathers and includes "Daddy Olympics," which includes stroller-unfolding competitions and diaper-changing competitions.
Serve & Connect not only supports communities, but officers as well. The organization assists the families of officers killed in the line of duty with fundraising drives. In the last three and half years, Serve & Connect has helped raise more than $450,000 for families of officers killed in the line of duty.
Another Serve & Connect program partner, the North Columbia Youth Empowerment Initiative, is a collaboration with the Columbia Police Department and Columbia Parks and Recreation. The initiative makes use of a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to improve the lives of the targeted area's children, creating a model that can be used around the nation.
Altogether, Alia Ray said, Serve & Connect is driving a message that "together, we are better." "All of these events, what they're intended to do is foster greater connections and sense of community," she said.
Serve & Connect was founded in honor of Forest Acres Police Officer Gregory Alia, husband of Kassy Alia Ray, who was killed in the line of duty in 2015. The organization has a nine-member board, two full-time staffers and two part-time staffers. It focuses on South Carolina, but its work has caught national attention. It has been featured on the "Today Show" and in a TEDx Talk, and Alia Ray has presented at the FBI National Academy.
Learn more about Serve & Connect. Find the full Annual Meeting schedule and registration information online.