'Rock the Community' event looks to promote better relations with police and community

'Rock the Community' event looks to promote better relations

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Hundreds of Columbia residents headed to Douglass Park Saturday afternoon for the first ever "Rock the Community" event.

Event organizers Rodney and Rita Renee are St. Louis natives who have been putting it on for about 10 years back in St. Louis. This year they decided to bring it to Columbia.

Rita Renee said they've invited the community as well as law enforcement to the event. The Columbia Police and Fire departments played a game of basketball with members of the community.

After a number of crimes in the Columbia area, police are still working to improve relations with community members.

Police have said it is hard talking with the community when they're investigating these crimes, most recently a shooting on Quail Drive.

Renee said she hopes the event can help ease some of the tension between residents and the police, especially for the younger kids.

"If you don't know who's policing your community, you're kind of uptight. But this way they know. They know the officers by name, by face," she said. "[They'll say] 'Oh, I remember I played basketball with you, well this is what's going on in my life.' Then they are on a whole different level with that kid and they can help them and there's no tension."

Members of the Columbia Police Department's community outreach unit were at the event as well, which featured live music and food.

There are six officers assigned to three Columbia areas in the central, north and east parts of town. The city has identified them as "Areas of Focus" in the 2016-2019 Strategic Plan. Douglass Park, where the event was held Saturday, is one of them.

Officer Scott Lenger is one of the officers assigned to the unit. He said events like Saturday's are a way for them to get to know more of the community they're protecting.

"Building that trust and the relationships that we build and events like this and being out in our neighborhoods opens that line of communication to further our investigations sometimes," he said.

Lenger said on his time in the outreach unit, he's seen a big change in what he calls "generational thinking" or the way the police interact with kids.

"When we first started going to our schools and our neighborhood, they were asking us 'who's in trouble, who's going to jail, why are you here?'" he said. "That's turned into friendships that they say 'hey Officer Scott and Officer Tony' and that's built relationships in the schools. Then when we get into our neighborhoods that relationship extends so we have friends in our neighborhoods which extends to the family members."

Lenger said it's a little harder getting high school or college age kids to be comfortable with them but he said they continue to keep the lines open with them.

"We try to explain to them 'we're not trying to force ourselves upon you but we're here if you need us,'" he said.

He said the unit will continue that outreach until and even after residents start feeling comfortable enough to talk to or work with police to keep their neighborhoods safe.

"We want to foster that relationship where they feel comfortable stopping them [officers] and saying 'here's what's going on, I just don't want this in my neighborhood, is there something you can do for it?'" he said. "That's what we're trying to build, so that they feel comfortable talking with us."

Other people who attended the event Saturday feel like "Rock the Community" could really benefit Columbia.

"It's a great event and a great opportunity to you know, just to see that everybody can come together, said Zeus Rebel Waters, one of the musicians who performed Saturday. "We need stuff like this, Columbia needs it, the world needs it. It's a good thing."

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