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Eager to meet the public
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During the last two years, the Ceres Department of Public Safety has been holding informal community meetings at the various neighborhood parks around the city. These meetings are typically planned and held on relatively short notice, with police and fire representatives attending, along with staff from other city departments. It is not unusual to have city council members at these meetings, as well as the city manager.

City staff brings the hot dogs and soft drinks for those who attend. The whole point of these events is to give community members access to the public employees and officials who serve them. The atmosphere is relaxed, there are no speeches, and so far, these meetings have proven to be very successful, productive and popular. It has been particularly rewarding to watch the officers who patrol our streets, our dispatchers and firefighters speak one-on-one with the residents who are brimming with questions, some have complaints or are angry about various things, but most importantly, it brings everyone to the same level of existence: we are all people trying to do our best and to keep our community safe.

Some examples of the issues that come up are complaints about traffic hazards, drug houses or gang activity in the neighborhood, blight, problems with unattended vacant houses, noise complaints, traffic sign requests, city service complaints and requests for formalized Neighborhood Watch programs.

I attend most of these meetings, and have found them extremely productive. As an example, one neighborhood group, led by Mr. Don Cool, hosted one of these meetings, and insisted that its members provide the forum, food and drinks, in recognition of the need for a unified front between public safety and the community. It was an outstanding success!

Once we know about a neighborhood's specific needs and problems, city staff formulates a response plan in conjunction with the neighbors, and then takes steps to implement the plan. It is also rewarding to see how well the officers, firefighters and residents interact with each other. Usually, when these personnel are seen in a neighborhood or traveling along our busy main thoroughfares, they are hurrying to an emergency or other high-priority call for assistance. This leaves them little time to stop and visit with the people.

The neighborhood meetings are showing the ability to restore the personal touch to our police and fire services - something that is very important when it comes to eliminating crime and improving overall community safety, The relationship between public safety personnel and the public has been reduced to interactions that take place only when big problems have developed or when emergency assistance has become necessary. This is owing to the fact that our personnel resources are quite limited, but it also results from the [previous] lack of public forums like the neighborhood meetings.

These meetings became possible when the City Council decided to authorize a community relations officer position, which is now occupied by Enrique Perez. He is responsible for scheduling the meetings, making the arrangements for the various city staff to participate, and most of the time; he is the man on the grill cooking the hot dogs. If you and your neighbors are interested in having one of these meetings in your area, you should call Enrique at 538-5735 to discuss the arrangements and to get an understanding of the basic issues in your neighborhood.