Cheshire Chief of Police Neil Dryfe is always looking for ways to establish a relationship of trust between his department and the community.
Like many police department heads across the nation, he feels that the twin shockwaves from the COVID-19 pandemic and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 eroded the openness and mutual respect that should exist between citizens and the officers charged with protecting them.
“These have been some rough years for police and the communities we serve,” Dryfe says.
Pointing to the fact that Cheshire officers were forced to do some of their duties over the last few years via Department-issued cellphones or while wearing face masks, he believes such requirements “limited our ability to be accessible in the community to an extent.”
To help re-establish some of the good relationship enjoyed between the people of Cheshire and the Department, Dryfe asked Sergeant Tracy Gonzalez to look into putting together some events this year that would allow town residents, especially youngsters, to interact with officers in a more relaxed setting. It was something both Dryfe and Gonzalez felt was needed after years of distancing, “in order to strengthen the ties and bonds,” and get people together in “non-police roles,” said Dryfe.
To that end, the Department will be participating in the nationwide Faith & Blue weekend, beginning on Friday, Oct. 7, and lasting through Monday, Oct. 10. The entire community is welcome to attend all the various events, which Gonzalez has worked with local groups to organize.
The first day will feature “Storytime with a Cop,” where officers will read to children, and “Create a Wreath,” a crafting program. Both will be held at White Oak Baptist Church, 120 Main St., from 5 to 7 p.m. Proceeds from the wreath-making activity will go toward Books to the Rescue. “Cheshire police officers carry these books in their vehicles, and they can hand them out to children in crisis,” explains Gonzalez.
On Saturday, Oct. 8, a Bingo Night will be held at St. Bridget of Sweden Parish, 175 Main St., from 6 to 8 p.m.
Then on Sunday evening, Oct. 9, there will be a prayer vigil at the Franciscan Life Center located at 271 Finch Ave. in Meriden, from 3 to 5 p.m. Like all the events, this activity is not limited to those of any particular religion and is open to everyone.
Monday’s event is a child-friendly coffee-and-refreshments session at Cavalry Life Family Worship Center, 174 East Johnson Ave., from 10 a.m. to noon.
Faith & Blue is a nationwide coalition consisting of over 1600 faith-based organizations and over 750 local law enforcement partners, according to its website. Its major partners include dozens of federal, state, and county law enforcement agencies along with several religious organizations. Dryfe, in his role as president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, has been a leader in moving Connecticut toward participating.
Faith & Blue came about in 2020, partially through the support of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing and partially through the advocacy work of Movement Forward, an Atlanta-based group founded by Reverend Markel Hutchins. The group’s mission is “to finish the work of building the ‘Beloved Community’ envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by providing innovative, inclusive, and solution-focused advocacy via another generation of change agents who are committed to the peaceful, nonviolent tradition of social activism.”
As Dr. King himself wrote, “Faith transforms the whirlwind of despair into a warm and reviving breeze of hope.”
Neither Dryfe nor Gonzalez claims to be particularly religious themselves, but both agree that having faith of some sort is critical to a career in policing.
“It’s not necessarily God. You do have to believe in something to do this job,” says Gonzalez, “whether that’s just in yourself, in doing the right thing, making a difference by helping others. Faith is really necessary to our work.”
Dryfe points to the long history of religious figures who have been connected to the police department, such as chaplains being present at police events, performing invocation or convocation ceremonies that give solemn meaning to the life-staking duty that the job implies. These days, he says the traditions “run the gamut of different religions,” as departments seek to be more and more inclusive and representative of their communities, while maintaining moral courage as a pillar of service.
As Dryfe also says, “We want to be seen as your friendly neighborhood police officers.” These events, he believes, are a step in that direction.