We'll leave the light on.

Off-duty police officers spearhead The Porch Light Project

by Chuck Ramsay

There is no denying that police departments in the St. Louis area have come under scrutiny, and even criticism, by many since the shooting deaths of Michael Brown, VonDerrit Meyer, and Kajieme Powell by officers. But, in fairness, we also believe that most police officers are well intended, ethical, caring of their community and professional. It is the exceptions, rather than the rule, that cause concern and calls for better training, civilian oversight, and hiring only those who are mentally stable, are not racist, and can uphold the oath they take to protect and serve.

Serving With The Badge is a relatively new organization of St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officers, headed by Christian Johnson, who has set out to “build relationships, restore trust and bridge the gap between law enforcement and citizens by mobilizing off duty officers and first responders to volunteer in the communities they serve.”

They began in January, 2015, with five officers in response to the needs expressed by St. Louis area communities following Michael Brown’s death, the Ferguson protests and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. They wanted to focus on helping police officers and citizens rebuild trust and learn how to work together to build stronger communities free of many of the biases, prejudices and obstacles to having safe and healthy communities for all citizens.

One of the first steps they are making towards achieving these goals is a small step, in the words of Officer Christian Johnson, to get individuals and organizations to donate energy-efficient light bulbs and then to provide them to homes in North City neighborhoods. The goal was to have more lights on in the neighborhood, a proven crime deterrent. But, he stresses that the process of having volunteers going door to door in these neighborhoods handing out the light bulbs, explaining the program to residents, and even helping them install the bulbs, builds stronger relationships for greater trust in the police, and allows the police to get to know neighbors and neighborhoods better.

The inaugural event was held on March 19 in the Walnut Park neighborhood adjacent West Florissant Avenue and Goodfellow Boulevard. A mix of police officers, community organizers and college students gathered for a pep rally of sorts where the program was explained and the program endorsed by several well-known elected officials and community leaders.

The Porch Light Project has received donations of bulbs from Ameren Missouri, and is supported in part by the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, 100 Black Men, Gizmos Gift, Better Family Life, Mission Continues, Washington University in St. Louis’ Institute of Health and Institute of Architecture, Regional Arts Commission, Good Map, the OCA, Regent Power, City of St. Louis, St. Louis Police Foundation, St. Louis Police Association, St. Louis Ethical Society, Operation Food Search, Focus St. Louis, Salvation Army, Matthew Dickey’s Boys and Girls Club, Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, Senator Jamila Nasheed, Take Action STL, as well as others.

Serving With The Badge (http://www.swbadge.com) also has an active Coats for Kids project and is considering other ways to help improve our community. Check out their website where you can find ways to help them out through volunteering or donating.


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