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Building bridges and breaking down barriers

The Arcata Police Department hosted a Sunday barbecue

Nearly 50 people turned out for a community barbecue put on by the Arcata Police Department on Sunday afternoon. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. APD officers manned a grill in the Humboldt Plaza Apartments, building relationships while serving laughs, hot dogs, chips and refreshments.

“We’re out here building relationships with the community,” Sergeant Brian Hoffman said. “We are trying to build trust, but it is not always so easy. We are laying the foundation for the future.”

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Sergeant Brian Hoffman mans the grill during the Arcata police department’s community barbecue at the Humboldt Plaza Apartments on Sunday Jan. 27. | Photo by Freddy Brewster

Two weeks prior to the event, APD officers walked throughout the apartment complex introducing themselves and asking tenants how they felt about a community barbecue. Chysha Williams, a resident of the Humboldt Plaza Apartments, welcomed the event as well as the opportunity to meet those in charge of keeping the community safe.

“It is important to know who is here to protect you, and to know that they are good guys,” Williams said. “These events are good because if there is a bad situation, we’re not afraid to call the police.”

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Arcata Chief of Police Brian Ahearn chats with Chysha Williams during the community barbecue put on by the Arcata Police Department at the Humboldt Plaza Apartments on Sunday Jan. 27. | Photo by Freddy Brewster

The barbecue is part of an enhanced community outreach program that the APD is using to break down barriers in the community. A rise in the amount of violent crime in Arcata, as well as the murder of Josiah Lawson and the handling of that case have contributed to a tense atmosphere. Police Chief Brian Ahearn was recently hired after the former chief abruptly resigned about one year after the death of Lawson.

“Having a community event, such as a barbecue, sort of tears down those walls that have divided us over the years and it gives the people a chance to get to know us,” Ahearn said.

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Officer Heidi Groszmann hands out chips during a community barbecue at the Humboldt Plaza Apartments on Sunday Jan. 27 | Photo by Freddy Brewster

Chief Ahearn moved here from the San Diego area, where he spent nearly 30 years working in law enforcement. He has been giving a lot of focus to rebuilding trust in the community and has been in attendance at a number of community events such as a vigil for Josiah Lawson and the Martin Luther King Day march. During the barbecue, Chief Ahearn offered praise to a new officer, Chris Rogers.

“You’re on the right track and your heart is in a good place,” Chief Ahearn said to Rogers. “I sleep well at night knowing there are good cops like you.”

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Officer Chris Rogers plays a game of “knockout” with the children of the Humboldt Plaza Apartments during Sunday’s community barbecue. | Photo by Freddy Brewster

Rogers is a recent graduate from Humboldt State where he earned a degree in biology. He has only been with the APD for seven months but doesn’t shy away from interacting with the community. During the barbecue, Rogers played basketball with the kids and felt that it was a positive way for officers to interact with the youth.

“We’re here to show the kids a different side of the police,” Rogers said. “There is more to policing than just enforcement.”

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