New police officers on beat in the Newhallville, East Rock and Cedar Hill will not just walk the streets, but talk to people — and prove it.
That’s one of several ideas that new District 7 top cop Sgt. Shafiq Abdussabur shared with the neighbors of the Newhallville Community Management Team.
Abdussabur made his debut as district manager Tuesday night at the CMT’s monthly meeting at Lincoln-Basset School.
Though he had to dash out at one point to pray — it is the month of Ramadan, and Abdussabur is a devout Muslim — he stayed for the duration of the meeting. He poured out ideas and solicited others for improving community policing in the district.
Abdussabur succeeds a popular top District 7 cop, Lt. Herb Sharp. Sharp, who was a classmate of Abdussabur in the police academy, recently retired from the department after 20 years to oversee security for Planned Parenthood offices across the state.
Abdussabur said he’s excited to be the top cop in the community. He said he has already heard the concerns of neighbors who have complained that cops walking the beat oftentimes don’t speak, or worse, they just talk to each other during their shift walks through the streets.
“Over the next two months of the summer, we’re going to keep on moving with the walking beats,” he said. “One of the things I like to do is give the [walking beats] new tasks.
“Well, their new task is no longer to just be a walking beat; they’re going to be ‘community engagement officers.’ Why? Because anybody can walk up an down the street. But from the information I’ve heard many of you, and at all of the community meetings I’ve attended over a period of time, they do walk by and they don’t engage you and talk to you.
“They’re going to spend the summer working on community engagement and talking to you when they’re doing their job, whether it’s on overtime or they’re being paid straight time. Their job is going to be to meet somebody to know somebody.”
Abdussabur said his wife of 24 years, Mubarakah Ibrahim, gave him an idea for how to keep up with how officers are doing with that task: Create an Officer of the Month recognition and reward program for the officer who engages most with the community. The winner would receive a prize, such as a a Starbucks gift card.
“It sounds corny, but maybe they’ll have to get a vote from you, or they have to go to all your houses and get signatures,” he said.
The two dozen people present assured him that the idea isn’t corny at all.
“We’re going to start focusing on just the basics,” Abdussabur said. “When I was a kid growing up in this neighborhood, the things that we now spend all of our energy trying to fix, didn’t even exist. This was like the black Beaver Hills of Dixwell. This is a very historical neighborhood. We’ve got good people and homes.Those are the things I’m going to focus on.”
Abdussabur lives as “across the lagoon” from Newhallville at the border of Beaver Hills. He said he understands the frustrations of neighbors who have had to listen to gunshots from the firing range because he has to listen to them too. Though the city is taking care of the moving the firing range, Abdussabur has an idea for how neighbors can use technology to address some of the other quality-of-life concerns.
He said he plans to create a What’s App group that would allow neighbors to join a massive text message group to report shots fired to a car outside their house or music turned up too loud.
“I’m look for y’all to tell me if people are hanging out in this area at a particular time at night,” he said. “The other day I was at home and I had the window up. I was sitting in front of the window it was so nice. I was trying to do my homework and I was struggling. And a kid that I had raised, was across the street, my nephew. They’ve got music going, and they’re doing wheelies with the bike. I almost lost my mind, looked on the What’s App group and not nobody had said anything. I walked out there and I said, ‘Somebody is going to go to jail if you don’t stop.’”
When he’s at home or off duty, Abdussabur can’t just go outside and shut such activities down in Newhallville. But neighbors can let him know at any time of the day through the messaging process so that he can end officers to a particular location, or to follow up personally. They also can just call him because he gave them his cell phone number.
“We can work together,” he said. “There is lot of talent here.
“We often talk about resources and money, but we know to this point there’s two valuable things we care about and that is peace of mind and our time. That’s something we’re going to be working on and expanding this wonderful leadership together. I think that’s a new task can work on with the next management team, everybody here bring a younger person just to come and sit in. We’re not going to be here tomorrow and this person going to replace us. Who would that be? I think that would give us the longevity that we need.”
Neighbor Ken Joyner asked about his plans for the substation. Abdussabur said he’s already working on cleaning it out and making it a more hospitable to the neighborhood.
That includes dumping some of the old furniture, painting the inside and putting up information about the history of Newhallville and pictures of cops who work the neighborhood engaged in community policing. He also wants to stock the fridge this summer with ice pops that officers can give out to the kids in the neighborhood and arm walking beats with candy to hand out even when it’s not Halloween.
“My goal with the substation is that it becomes a really good resource for the community so that when you all as community leaders say, ‘I want to have meeting,’ you can walk into the substation, it is a nice presentable place that you feel proud of,” he said. He also is looking to soften the harshness of the substation’s fortress-like facade by putting in some flowers.
“I don’t like the way it looks right now,” he said.
Abdussabur stressed he wants to hear ideas from the community, too. He encouraged neighbors Tuesday night to come up with three tasks for him to tackle this summer for the neighborhood.
State Rep. Robyn Porter said she was anxious when she heard that Lt. Sharp was moving on, but she has been able to relax since she learned that Abdussabur had taken the job.
“I just want to say that I couldn’t be happier and more pleased to have this brother as our district manager,” she told her neighbors Tuesday. “I mean that sincerely. He cares about our community. He loves our kids. He is a family man celebrating 24 years of marriage.”
Police Chief Dean Esserman and Assistant Police Chief Anthony Campbell, who oversees patrol operations, were also on hand Tuesday night to introduce Abdussabur.
Campbell said Abdussabur is one of the people who trained him and whom he has always looked up to.
“Those are things that come before the badge and the authority we’re given as police officers,” Campbell said. “For him it’s not about, ‘What can I do for Shafiq to make myself look good?’ It’s about, ‘What can I do to serve this community?’ He lives in the community; he’s always about kids and making things better and making our people better, which I really admire. And he’s about doing real police work. He loves community policing, but he understands, as he said up here before, sometimes people gotta get locked up.
“But he understands that locking people up is not the end all answer to all things,” Campbell added. “If you have to lock somebody up, then there is a failure in the system, and that’s were the community needs to rally around and get the person the services, get them the care that they need.
The management team also invited Community Mediation to Tuesday’s meeting to discuss plans for next year, and broke up into small working groups to discuss how to better engage youth, how to attract and retain management team members, and how to prepare neighbors to take on leadership on the team so more people can serve.