It’s been about three decades since Jeff Stilwell was a rookie police officer, but a recent promotion has returned that fresh-on-the-force excitement.
Stilwell became Capt. Stilwell in April, as he took charge of the new Community Services Division of the Rochester Police Department.
“Every day is exciting to me. I come to work and it's sort of strange because it's almost like when you are a rookie cop, that is how you feel all the time,” Stilwell said last month reflecting on the new position.
“Now, after 30 years, I get the same excitement," he said. "Hey, I am going to meet some really cool people today and maybe build a bridge and maybe find a solution for somebody that is in the middle of problem. Maybe (I'll) convince somebody, ‘Hey, trust us,’ or maybe, ‘Let's meet again, let's go have coffee and talk about what it is that you don't like about the Rochester Police Department, or what could we do better, or how were you treated that made you feel minimized.’”
Stilwell oversees the department’s school resource officers, parking enforcement, animal control, the community action team as well as the intel unit, which Stilwell said is helping the department be more data-driven in its decisions.
The need for police to show increased community engagement, involvement and relationship-building was something Mayor Kim Norton said was part of the discussion she had with Chief Jim Franklin when she first took office.
“With this position, we are getting to see that come to life,” she said. “We have someone whose job it is to focus on community policing, building the relationships with community, between the police and the community, which the whole department is doing, but of course, this person is going to be responsible and answerable to that particular aspect.”
Stilwell described his week as meeting with groups, trying to make connections and learn how to build a better police force for everyone.
“My focus is primarily on those communities where we need to build those relationships that will serve us long into the future, through the growth, through things that inevitably happen in this profession,” he said.
For first-term City Council member Patrick Keane, the police department was a special interest before he became a council member. Keane said he likes the idea of community policing and creating relationships with the community and having a positive image of the police in the community before an emergency situation.
“I like these kinds of investments," he said, adding that it is also important to make sure "that they prove helpful and that these relationships within the community help keep the community safer.” Keane said it would be something to watch over time.
Another part of Stilwell’s responsibilities include overseeing the piloting of the downtown beat program. This summer, school resource officers who would typically go back to traditional shift work at the end of the school year are walking downtown beats.
Describing how he sees the beat, Stilwell said it is like a school but you can't control entry.
“You have to know the teacher, the counselors, the kids that are straight-A students and the kids that are struggling,” he said. “That is how i want you to treat the downtown area. You have to be out there. You have to be identifying problems that traditionally we might not have identified because they either didn't call in or didn’t think it was a big enough problem.”
Other things Stilwell’s division is working on include increased parking enforcement, because as Stilwell said, “parking causes a lot of complaints.” The division will also be looking at things that weren’t always considered police-related before, such as where the best locations for a food truck may be and how will downtown streets look and where parking will be located.
The position differs from traditional policing in that Stilwell focuses on being proactive — not responding to crime events. Instead of being driven by calls for service, Stilwell said his officers are taking the “big picture view.”
“I can really ask my staff how do we make the downtown a better place for everybody,” he said. “How do we make it so everybody can sort of have their space, feel safe and it can be a vibrant downtown area like many big cities have?”