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NOTE: as of April 17, 2007, the Free to Grow program has closed.
News Room

Joy Citta, Captain, Lincoln, Nebraska Police Department

Who:  Joy Citta, Captain with the Lincoln, Nebraska Police Department, a Free To Grow (FTG) partner.  Capt. Citta has been on the force since 1979 and currently oversees one of Lincoln's five community policing teams.

Involvement with Free To Grow:
  Member of the Free To Grow Governance Team in Lincoln.

Special Subject:  Community Policing.  The LPD is recognized nationally for its successful, long term commitment to Community Policing.

What:  Captain Citta spoke with about Community Policing and its partnership with Free To Grow, which in Lincoln is administered by the Lincoln Action Program, an agency that helps more than 9,000 low-income families each year to make positive changes in their lives.

FTG:  Captain Citta, let's start at the beginning.  How would you describe community policing?

JC:  Here in Lincoln, community policing is not a project or a program.  It is an attitude we have about working with people in the community to try to solve problems.  It means when folks need something, they know to call us. 

When there is a problem to be solved, the police involve as many people as necessary to solve it.
If there are wild parties in a neighborhood, the LPD works with a number of people to do something about it.  We work with the people hosting the party; if they are young people, we work with their parents.  We work with the neighbors and the neighborhood associations; with other City and community-based agencies.  If the people responsible for the wild party are members of the University [the University of Nebraska, Lincoln] community, we work with the University.

The police could run in, break up the party, and go away. But if a party happens the next week, we did not solve the problem.  In Community Policing, we try to take the next step; we try to find a solution that is workable instead of just going back and repeatedly answering the same call, time after time.

FTG:  When and how did the LPD become involved in Community Policing?

JC:  The history of Community Policing in Lincoln goes back to 1975, when the then-police chief retired after 38 years on the force. The City did a national search and came up with a police chief from another area.  The new chief came in and changed everything. He changed the color of our cars, our uniforms, and the patch that we wore.   At that time, he adopted the then-new way of policing, called team policing.  He split the City up into five team areas with a captain in charge of each area and officers reporting to them. 

The officers came to know what was going on in their area; they came to know the community, and the community came to know them. The officers knew who was supposed to be there, and who was not, who worked there and who lived there. In fact, we have never left that model of policing.  We started it when a lot of agencies did back in the mid ‘70's but, in many departments, it kind of came and went.  We stuck with the concept, and we have had some type or form of team policing ever since. We have been doing this a long, long time, and it has become part of the culture of our department, and an expectation in our City.

FTG:  Is it accurate to say that at the heart of community policing is a police department—perhaps an entire municipal government—that is involved with and accessible to residents?

JC:  Yes!  Our City does a lot of work to make all of its services available to people.  Our City website is huge. []  Many City permits are on the web. You can download them and fill them out.  You can figure out who the president of your neighborhood association is and get their phone number.  In fact, I just had a call for service come in through the internet.  Someone has been living in a trailer parked out in front of a soup kitchen for three days. Someone e-mailed the request, ‘Could you send an officer?'  So I called it into dispatch, and an officer went out and checked on it.  I e-mailed the person when the officer completed the call, ‘We were just there and here's the situation.'  We also get letters.  I have a neighborhood activist who tells us about abandoned vehicles. He drives around the neighborhood once a week and sends me a list of what he sees abandoned and wants us to go look at.  I make them a call for service and out we go. 

My team area includes the University and three of the oldest neighborhoods of the City. We are the only Team Station in Lincoln, and we actually sit right in the middle of the neighborhood we serve.  We make it as easy as possible for people to contact us.  People can walk in, go to the service desk and request an officer. We are open to ‘walk-ins' between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. However, the rest of the time, the outer vestibule has a direct telephone line to our dispatch center.  So if a resident walks in the door, he or she can pick up the phone and talk to the dispatcher, and we will send over an officer.

FTG:  Lincoln's population is very diverse.  How does this diversity affect the way the LPD polices?

JC:  We have contact every day with people whose belief system and ethical system may be totally different than ours.  One thing we do is give officers quite a bit of information about the three or four predominant cultures in the City. As far as the numbers go, Lincoln is about 93 percent white.  So seven percent of our population of about 250,000 would be considered people of color. 

Domestic violence is an excellent example.  In a number of countries, women are second class citizens, and it's not considered a crime to beat them or to make sexual overtures to them.    When a situation arises, first, we have to explain our laws, and try to help the victim to understand. Then we have to explain to the rest of the family why someone was arrested.

Also, we have always worked to bridge the gap of fear and distrust of the police that exists in people from many places. We have created an environment here in Lincoln where people feel safe enough with the police to come in to the station when they have a problem.    

FTG:  Does the LPD do special outreach to young people?

JC:   Yes.  We have the Police Youth Advisory Board, which consists of about a dozen high school students from Lincoln's high schools. We meet with them monthly to discuss problems they may be having and issues of interest to them.  The officers also teach them about the services we provide and what police officers do.

We work on a continuing basis on all kinds of projects with the University. We are asked to speak in classes, mostly on alcohol-related issues.  We meet yearly with the heads of the fraternities and their staff. We talk about how to host parties appropriately  We have a Special Events Team.  This team has representatives from every regulatory agency in the City.  Anyone who wants to do a special event, a dance that involves City property or an event with alcohol that involves using our streets and our sidewalks, has to go through our special events team.  We meet as a team with them, review their request, have them follow all the regulations and laws from fire safety and electrical cord outlets to police services. 

FTG:  Capt. Citta, you just mentioned one way that the LPD deals with alcohol-related issues.  Could you discuss that further within the context of Community Policing?

JC:  I have over 100 bars within six blocks of the University, and 22,000 students, the majority of them under the legal age to drink in this City.  I spend a lot of time dealing with liquor issues, and so does the University.  The LPD and the University have an excellent partnership when it comes to dealing with alcohol-related issues. The Chief of Police, Tom Casady, is the co-chair  for NU Directions Campus Community Coalition, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant on binge drinking.  In addition, Lincoln's downtown area is patrolled by six officers on bicycles.  Two during the day shift and four at night. They work closely with licensed liquor establishments in the downtown area to help control the abuse of alcohol and ensure that laws and regulations pertaining to licensed establishments are well-understood and closely enforced.  This approach includes prevention, training and enforcement approaches.  The bicycle patrol has close community contact, like an officer on foot patrol would. They have visibility, and they are approachable and friendly.

FTG:  Are there ways that the LPD seeks feedback about its performance from the community?

JC:  Yes.  One of the ways we get feedback is through an outbound telephone survey, called a Quality Service Audit or QSA. .  So, if you got a ticket, or got arrested, or if you were the victim of a crime, if you were involved in an accident, your name goes on the list, and we have interns who call you and ask you about 12 questions.  Some of the questions are, ‘Did the officer treat you with dignity and respect?  Did you have a chance to tell your side of the story? Did you feel the officer listened to you?'  The interns also ask questions about the person's neighborhood, for instance. We ask them how safe and secure do they feel. Thanks to the QSA survey, officers get monthly feedback about how they are doing directly from the people they are providing those services to. 

FTG:  Both the Community Policing model and Free To Grow put a heavy emphasis on partnerships. How does the LPD partner with Free To Grow?  I know you sit on the Governance Team.

JHC:   The Governance Team meets monthly, maybe a little more often.  Mostly we meet to work on improving specific areas within the Clinton neighborhood, which was the neighborhood picked to receive the Free To Grow services.  Our discussions and activities have centered on how to implement the ideas that we all have decided to move forward. 

For instance, one idea is to create Neighborhood Block Watch groups. Two advocates, who are part of the Free To Grow staff at Lincoln Action Program, selected two blocks in the area and are going door-to-door to explain the Free To Grow program.  Another project they are working on is identifying two or three blocks that community members want to clean up. We will help residents figure out ways to repair houses, clean up streets, and get City services to an area.  If they've got alleys that are unpaved or sidewalks that need to be repaired or lights that haven't been installed, but should have been, or criminal activity or concerns, we'll help find ways to improve those situations.

FTG:  How do you think FTG has benefited the Lincoln Community?

JC:  I think it has connected a number of people with the same mission who weren't previously connected.  And I think we are going to see that exponentially expand here in the next year because there was a lot of upfront planning. And now we are on the ground, doing the work. That's where you are going to see it expand into some really big changes for the neighborhood.

FTG:  Thank you Capt. Citta.

Photograph: ©2003, Stephen Shames/Polaris



copyright 2008 Free To Grow
Free To Grow is a national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.