HARRISBURG, Pa. — The first thing any Harrisburg Police officer sees when they walk into morning roll call is a wall of ‘Thank You’ cards.
There are dozens of them, hanging by a string attached to the wall. Others are pinned and open for officers to see. “Thank You Police Officers,” says one. Another has a heart drawn, with the words, “Police Officer Appreciation” written inside.
In the wake of recent police-involved tragedies, with officers shot and killed in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Kansas City, police are on edge. Even in Harrisburg where, thankfully, violence against officers hasn’t appeared.
Getting a ‘Thank You’ note or a handshake on the street isn’t uncommon for Harrisburg Police, although it has happened more often in recent weeks. When an officer begins his shift, the community appreciation isn’t unnoticed.
“It is a part of our job. We’re here to serve,” says David Botero, the department’s community policing director. “But it is nice to hear kind sentiments, thoughts and prayers from our neighbors and residents. We do need it, but we always need it.”
Botero says he receives “two to three” cards per day, but across the entire police department, he estimates dozens per day. Some people recently have brought police meals, snacks, or homemade baked goods, like cookies and brownies.
“Our citizens, our neighbors, and our community at large has our back,” he says.
Botero’s job is police liaison to the inner-city community. He spends a lot of time with local youth, as a way to give kids a positive role model in police growing up. His position is a byproduct of Harrisburg Police Chief Tom Carter, whose vision of proactive policing has trickled down through the ranks of his officers.
The last few weeks, however, have been challenging, Botero says. Communities across the nation are on edge due to what many believe are instances of unjust police brutality. Police-community relations in Harrisburg might be better than other cities across the country, but officers admit it’s far from perfect.
“We’re not getting a fair shake in that. People see the national spectrum of whats going on, and we get tagged with it,” Botero says.
His solution: Bring the peace to the community. On days like Thursday, Botero hops in his 1986 Chrysler van, its sides decked out in the words “Community Police”, with two badge decals on the back windows: One says “Back The Blue”, the other says “Peace.”
Botero rides around Harrisburg’s neighborhoods, looking for citizens who need rides. Usually, he stops by bus stops and people walking along major roads, like State Street, Derry Street, or Walnut Street in Allison Hill.
Think of it like a Police Uber. Botero says he typically ends up giving folks a lift he doesn’t even know. On this day, however, he runs into a pair of twins near the corners of Market and 15th Sts. in South Allison Hill. They were walking downtown to Strawberry Square.
“One of them is pregnant and its over 90 degrees,” Botero would say later. “You better believe I’m going to give them a ride!”
“What it boils down to is having a fruitful conversation with somebody, as a service of the Harrisburg City Police,” he continues. “And being a friend to them.”