FWPD’s Neighborhood Police Officer program fosters connections between the community and law enforcement.
To protect and serve: these watchwords define the mission of the Fort Worth Police Department. For many people, though, officers exist as remote figures, separated by an air of authority that renders them, unfortunately, somewhat foreign.
If your only direct contact with police comes through traffic stops, then you probably don’t appreciate these hardworking men and women as the dedicated, caring professionals they are. In order to encourage a greater sense of partnership between officers and community members, the Fort Worth Police Department instituted the Neighborhood Police Officer (NPO) program.
Ridglea Hills gets the best that this program has to offer in Officer J. Allen Pennington. A native of Sweetwater, Texas, Officer Pennington not only keeps the neighborhood safe during work hours — he hangs his hat there at night.
“I always wanted to be a police officer,” says Pennington. “Out in Sweetwater, I always watched the TV show Cops, and FWPD was always on there. I told my parents I wanted to work there, and my dad was like, ‘Are you sure?’”
Pennington arrived in Fort Worth in 2004 to study at Texas Wesleyan University, where he graduated with a degree in criminology in 2008. Joined in Fort Worth by his hometown sweetheart, Pennington lived for awhile in a downtown condo before purchasing his home on the westside. As luck would have it, the Ridglea Hills NPO position soon became available.
“I was assigned to the West 7th bike patrol unit,” says Pennington. “It just so happened that the Ridglea Hills NPO beat opened up when I put in for it. I still ride my bicycle, get to see and talk to people; it’s a really neat experience.”
Officer Pennington’s involvement with his neighborhood exemplifies what the NPO program strives to accomplish. Assigned to a specific beat, NPO officers create a unique impact through direct relations with residents. NPOs are not required to answer normal patrol calls, so their focus remains fixed on their home territory.
“Our main focus is on crime resolution and prevention,” explains Pennington. “We try to identify problems before they escalate, and we work closely with citizens on patrol, the Code Blue Program, which is something I totally believe in.”
In addition to serving as a liaison, Officer Pennington and the other NPOs serve as invaluable community resources. As a readily available officer that residents feel comfortable contacting, NPOs bridge the gap between authority and service. Residents can reach their NPO directly via cell phone, and report issues or get follow-up information. You also don’t need an excuse to reach out to your NPO — a simple ‘hello’ is reason enough.
“My goal is to meet everyone in my area and let them know what I do,” says Pennington. “People will call to report issues or follow up on things that occurred overnight. I also attend HOA meetings, crime watch meetings, and hold talks on crime prevention tips. I take pride in a proactive approach to police work, rather than reactive.”
This proactive approach begins with the connections between officers and residents. As a bike patrolman, Officer Pennington appreciated the easy rapport he had with motorists and pedestrians. As an NPO, he finds himself becoming an object of positive attention even more frequently.
“People will come up to me all the time and start conversations,” says Pennington. “People may want to ask me something, or simply shake my hand and say ‘thanks for the service.’ When people do that, you really feel like you’re making a difference.”
An appreciation for law enforcement is widespread throughout Fort Worth. Officer Pennington credits community partnerships, like the Westside Business Association, with creating an atmosphere of support for the city’s officers.
“The westside has a really good relationship with the police department,” says Pennington. “We encourage everyone to associate with one another and get involved with their community. It’s overwhelming how much support we get from the various businesses, for example.”
A visit to the Fort Worth Police Department’s website can show you how to find your very own NPO. The next time you see him or her, or any FWPD officer, don’t hesitate to give them a wave or gesture of appreciation. For those that put their lives on the line, a ‘thank you’ can mean an awful lot.
“There’s nothing more gratifying that helping people on a personal level,” says Officer Pennington. “When I go home at night, my goal is to feel like I made a difference.”
As the residents of Ridglea Hills would surely say: mission accomplished, Officer Pennington.