Police and People Coming Together
By Sobia Saleem

 
Brandy Garcia, Officer Patel, and Steve LaFond answer questions posed by community members
Local community members take their seats and attentively listen to Officer Patel

After the recent Adam Gadahn footage released online, walking into the mosque and seeing a police car triggers one thought: “Oh no, not again. What happened this time?”. However, as I walked into the mosque, all I saw were smiles and a friend ushering me towards the police car parked out front to check out all the gadgets and gizmos. Kids were swarming all around the vehicle, pointing to object after object, sucking in information, while a dispatcher happily addressed their curious inquiries.
On Friday, July 7th, Masjid Ar-Rahman hosted a town hall meeting to dispel any wariness that the community feels towards its police or apprehension it experiences calling when it sees something suspicious. From the Garden Grove Police Department, 9 1 1 dispatcher Brandy Garcia, Officer Omar Patel, and Community Volunteer Coordinator Steve LaFond visited the Muslim community.
The meeting officially started after the maghrib prayer, but it was before maghrib that the visitors played show-and-tell. Brandy happily let the kids slide into the back of the police car, only to hit their rears on hard plastic. Officer Patel pulled out his shotgun and showed a group of interested teens what other goodies the car offered. The police vehicle was equipped with an odometer, a computer with aim, a radio, spikes to end rogue drivers, and other helpful devices.
After the evening prayer, community members strolled in, picking up various brochures as they took their seats. Haitham Bundakji began the meeting by introducing the honored guests, and then LaFond took the floor and encouraged all the members of the community to feel free to call the police department if there was an emergency or even if they felt that there was some suspicious activity going on. He strongly stressed the point that the community should feel free to call in whenever needed. Officer Patel reasoned that there are 160 police officers in Garden Grove to watch over crime, but there are 180,000 people in the city — with more than ten times as many eyes; he stressed that our calls truly assist the officers to safeguard citizens. Dispatching supervisor Brandy enlightened us, revealing that just because a person may not speak English doesn’t mean that he/she shouldn’t call 9 1 1 in case of an emergency. In fact, Police offices have a system that translates calls from up to 140 different languages!
Dr. Muzzamil Siddiqi, Officer Patel, Saleem Majid, and Steve LaFond
Sarah Saleem and Afra Javed flash smiles as they get a tour of Officer Patel’s police car

After insisting that we all feel open to call our local law enforcement officers, the panel was left open for questions. Community members raised concerns regarding racial profiling, Order 40, immigration laws, and neighborhood nuisances. Even kids had a say — Iqra Mukhlis raised her hand and asked the question that was on her mind, “What’s it like to be a police officer?”. This received suppressed smiles from everyone in the hall and her question was gladly answered by Officer Patel. Huzaifa Simjee asked LaFond how he and his friends could get a zebra-crossing so they could more easily cross the street, impressing everyone, since others have also previously noticed this problem. Mid-way through the question-answer session, a newswoman from Ch. 4 walked in, taking some video footage for the nightly news as a part of the Gadahn story and arousing a few whispers.
All in all, the meeting ended well with a more secure bond formed between the police department and local community members. The Garden Grove Police Department Interfaith Volunteer Chaplains Program sets a great example to the rest of the community. It leaps forward in taking opportunities to embrace the community, with all of its various ethnicities, religions, cultures, and beliefs. The town hall meeting was a success, bringing officers and community members together, and it offered a little something for everyone. From a comfortable environment for introducing community members’ concerns to an atmosphere friendly enough for even children to quench their curiosity.


 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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