Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Northside series.
Whatever event happens to be going on in the Northside, Aaron Jackson, Community Police Officer for the neighborhood, is likely to be there. He’s the one wearing the two-toned blue shirt that says Police in white letters across the back, not the traditional police uniform.
Whether he is greeting people at National Night Out, or cutting brush for a neighborhood cleanup, Officer Jackson has become a person to whom Northside neighbors turn when they have a safety concern or just want to chat.
“The Northside is a beautiful place,” says Jackson, who grew up in Dowagiac and admits having to adjust to city life when he joined the public safety department 10 years ago. “They have LaCrone Park, the Douglass Community Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs and lots of other service organizations. There are more great citizens in the community than law violators. There are also people who come into the area to commit crimes and that puts a magnifying glass on it in a negative way.”
Headed by Sgt. David Juday, the Community Policing Program
of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety was founded with the mission to build trust and relationships with residents. The eight official CPOs do this not only through their daily presence in their assigned neighborhoods and areas but also by maintaining lines of communication with neighborhood directors, such as Mattie Jordan-Woods at the Northside Association for Community Development, churches, schools and social service agencies in order to identify, and hopefully prevent, potential crimes and troubles.
“We try to be on top of things in our neighborhoods as far as the hotspots, such as people who are plaguing our neighborhoods with violence or drugs,” says Jackson. “We try to target those areas and try to get the violence to stop. We knock on doors all the way up to arresting people. We try to help.”
With the help of many City of Kalamazoo patrol officers who know the Northside well, Jackson says he tries to be the “eyes and boots on the ground.”
“The longer I’m in this position, the more people I know. The fact that people don’t mind calling me--that means trust to me--and that our presence in the neighborhood is effective. The end goal is to have no crime, but we all know that’s never going to be possible. If it was, I’d be out of a job,” he says, laughing.
In a neighborhood that is predominantly African American, Jackson feels he can be a role model for the youth he encounters.
“Some of these kids rarely see a minority police officer,” Jackson says. “We’re kind of few and far between. For them to see a minority in this profession -- someone who is on this side of the criminal justice system and not the other side -- is a big thing.”
Even on the best days, a police officer’s job can be challenging. “We try to take every situation in someone’s worst moment and make decisions based on the information that we have,” says Jackson. “As a CPO, my main focus is community problem-solving. If a patrol officer has information about a house they’ve gone to four or five times, if they know the problem, but don’t necessarily have the time to invest in it, that’s where I come in. I get to know the people and the situation. That might mean getting them services or figuring out what kind of violations we see.
“We’re always trying to better our relationship with our community,” says Jackson. Sometimes this means getting on his bike, sometimes visiting schools, churches or local businesses. But he’s seldom too busy to have a little fun, as he did when he had a spontaneous dance-off
with a young boy in 2016.
Jackson says he has enjoyed getting to know the people on the Northside and feels grateful to the support he receives from the City of Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, particularly Sergeant Juday and Chief Karianne Thomas, to do his job.
“I hope that the way I do my job on the Northside is reflecting positively,” he says. “I have folks that if I arrested you one day, I can see you the next day, and say, ‘Hi, how you are doing?’ I try to treat everyone equal.
“I serve this community and I also want to be a part of it.”