Gloria Arellano has provided a smiling face at the front desk of a law enforcement agency for years — first in Newton, and now in Hesston for the past three years. She began that career as a reserve officer for the Hesston Police Department in 1997.
And through it all, she has been a smiling face for those who walk through the doors of a police department, for whatever reason they are there. So when she saw an opportunity to serve Newton as part of the Newton Law Enforcement Advisory Panel, she leaped at the chance.
"I think it is a positive thing for Newton," Arellano said. "Hopefully we can expand. When we get more stable, we want to do more presentations and educational things for the community."
She is excited about an upcoming effort of LEAP — Coffee with a Cop on Leap Day. From 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 29, NPD officers will be at Norm's coffee shop, 613 N. Main St.
"This means more outreach, better community relations and a different avenue of community policing," Arellano said. "It means more involvement with the community on a positive note."
She also wears the hat of a community member — representing populations that may feel profiled by police officers.
"Some people can be hesitant in going to police with a complaint or a concern. If that is the case, they can come to LEAP and express that. We can be an advocate."
"Post Ferguson (Missouri), biased policing launched into the national spotlight. Cities across the country are looking closely at their practices," said Greg Nickel, a LEAP member who works as a municipal court clerk for the city of Newton. "The Kansas Supreme Court assembled a group of municipal judges to review practices across the state. Our efforts enhance those efforts in Newton."
LEAP has been around for several years, but the group faded into the background a few years ago. Meetings of LEAP were not happening, because they were not called by either leadership or the chief of police in that area.
"It was just not kept up with," Arellano said.
That became the topic of discussion for several meetings of the Newton Community for Racial Justice, and last fall there was a transition in the leadership of LEAP when leaders retired.
The group has made a comeback, rebounding under new leadership not only of LEAP, but new leadership at the Newton Police Department.
"With new PD leadership has come new energy to strengthen community relationships, Nickel said. "Historically, this relationship with minority populations has been difficult."
"We have some older members, and newer ones, that want to reboot this and get the community involved," Arellano added. "... Hopefully we can get it strong again."
LEAP is designed to serve as a "a bridge between the police and community members," with an eye on community members who might feel profiled — no matter what reason they may feel that has happened to them.
According to Nickel, the rebooted group has advised NPD for expanded options to file profiling complaints and renewed regular meetings, including meetings with police department leadership.
"We are exploring options to measure how well Newton handles this issue," Nickel said. "Whether profiling is real or perceived, either erodes confidence in our city and affects citizen quality of life."