CHESHIRE — Police Chief Neil Dryfe is always looking for ways to establish a relationship of trust between his department and the community.
Like many police department heads across the nation, he feels that the twin shockwaves from the COVID-19 pandemic and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 eroded the openness and mutual respect that should exist between citizens and the officers charged with protecting them.
“These have been some rough years for police and the communities we serve,” Dryfe said.
Officers were forced to do some of their duties over the last few years via cellphones or while wearing face masks and Dryfe believes the measures “limited our ability to be accessible in the community to an extent.”
To help re-establish relationships, Dryfe asked Sgt. Tracy Gonzalez to put together some events that would allow residents, especially youngsters, to interact with officers in a more relaxed setting. It was something both Dryfe and Gonzalez felt was needed “in order to strengthen the ties and bonds,” Dryfe said.
To that end, the department will participate in the nationwide Faith & Blue weekend, beginning Friday and lasting through Monday. The entire community is welcome to attend various events which Gonzalez has worked with local groups to organize.
The first day will feature “Storytime with a Cop,” where officers will read to children, and “Create a Wreath,” a crafting program. Both will be held at White Oak Baptist Church on 120 Main St., from 5 to 7 p.m. Proceeds from the wreath-making activity will go toward Books to the Rescue.
“Cheshire police officers carry these books in their vehicles, and they can hand them out to children in crisis,” Gonzalez said.
On Saturday, a Bingo Night will be held at Saint Bridget of Sweden Parish, 175 Main St., from 6 to 8 p.m.
On Sunday evening, there will be a prayer vigil at the Franciscan Life Center located at 271 Finch Ave. in Meriden, from 3 to 5 p.m.
Monday’s event is a child-friendly coffee and refreshment session that will take place at Cavalry Life Family Worship Center at 174 East Johnson Ave., from 10 a.m. to noon.
Faith & Blue is a nationwide coalition consisting of over 1600 faith-based organizations and over 750 local law enforcement partners, according to its website. Its major partners include dozens of federal, state, and county law enforcement agencies along with several religious organizations. Dryfe, in his role as president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, has been a leader in moving Connecticut toward participating.
Faith & Blue came about in 2020, partially through the support of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing and partially through the advocacy work of Movement Forward, an Atlanta-based group founded by Reverend Markel Hutchins. The group’s mission is “to finish the work of building the ‘Beloved Community’ envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by providing innovative, inclusive, and solution-focused advocacy via another generation of change agents who are committed to the peaceful, nonviolent tradition of social activism.”
Neither Dryfe nor Gonzalez claims to be particularly religious, but both agreed that having faith is critical to a career in policing.
“It’s not necessarily God. You do have to believe in something to do this job,” said Gonzalez, “whether that’s just in yourself, in doing the right thing, making a difference by helping others. Faith is really necessary to our work.”
Dryfe points to the long history of religious figures who have been connected to the police department, such as chaplains being present at police events, performing invocation or convocation ceremonies that give solemn meaning to the life-staking duty that the job implies. These days, he says the traditions “run the gamut of different religions,” as departments seek to be more and more inclusive and representative of their communities, while maintaining moral courage as a pillar of service.