Skip to main content

West Jordan Journal

‘You matter like I matter’ West Jordan PD rebuilds community outreach efforts

Jun 06, 2024 09:40AM ● By Rebecca Olds

Officer Teddy Barney talks with children while in uniform. (Courtesy West Jordan Police Department)

Chief Ken Wallentine of the West Jordan Police Department sees value in meeting people where they’re at.

On this particular day, he was excited to participate in the department’s recurring event, “Cookies with a Cop” that had been gaining traction within the community and getting his officers interacting with kids and residents in the community.

What he didn’t anticipate was the concerned mom finding him at the event and asking for his advice on how to handle her son being vetted by a local gang.

“That woman was not going to walk in the front door of the police department and say, ‘My son's being recruited into a gang,’” Wallentine said. “You've got to find communication portals that will meet people where they're at. We can't just sit here and ask people to come to us.”

In 2020, the West Jordan Police Department had to cut down on staff as the Covid-19 pandemic hurt the city’s finances and took its toll on the police. 

“We lost seven full-time positions from the police department, including everyone who had worked in human outreach and crime prevention,” Wallentine said. “You don't know what you've got until it's gone.”

Four years following the pandemic, community outreach efforts from the department are still ramping up with programs like a youth cadet program and citizens’ academy restarting in the beginning months of 2024. The inspiration and focus for these programs comes from a single phrase and outlook cultivated by the department.

“You matter like I matter”—a phrase Wallentine has put everywhere including his mirror that he shaves in front of every day, his car dashboard and about 20 surfaces within his office—the phrase is intended to refocus each officer on the humanity in each resident and encourages positive interaction.

“You matter like I matter”

“You matter like I matter—that's the driving principle of how we interact with people,” Wallentine said. “Not only the people here at work among one another, but the people that we deal with on traffic stops. People we deal with the domestic violence cases, the people we deal with that don't really know anything about the police department and the people that we deal with in the worst moments of their lives.”

The phrase comes from a training adapted to the PD from leadership development firm Arbinger Institute. West Jordan PD was the first and only PD up to this point to use the training to cultivate what is called the “outward” mindset. 

Wallentine said by teaching officers to be curious about others and striving to see the world from others’ perspectives, it leaves less room for conflict and more room for understanding. 

Cultivating community between cops and residents

Sgt. Andrew Hercules of the West Jordan PD started in the role of Community Outreach Supervisor in August 2023, three years after the pandemic started. 

In his position, Hercules is focused on “developing and implementing programs that are easy for everyone in [the] department to engage with [the] community.” And additionally creating opportunities to disband any misinformation.

“Something that haunts my dreams is the idea that you feel you couldn't trust your police department—that you would rather suffer through whatever awful experience is happening to you than call the police department to … help you because you're more scared of the police than you are of being a victim,” Hercules said. 

Hercules said his team consists of eight public information officers in the department that are a part of the community outreach efforts and take turns being on call for emergencies, but it’s definitely a force wide effort.

Each officer—public information officer or not—gives out business cards with a QR code that links residents to a survey which Wallentine said is offered in Spanish and English and only asks one question. “Based on your contact with the West Jordan police officers today, how comfortable do you feel with the police department providing police services for your family member or loved one?”

“It's a way to be open, available and reachable for folks who may not want to call us,” he said.

Since starting this procedure more than a year ago, Wallentine said that only 1 to 2% of the feedback has been negative. He said both he and Hercules “welcome” the negative feedback given by residents and let it drive change in the department when they do get it. The survey is also mailed to random residents who may not have direct contact with an officer through the QR code. 

More events such as teaching immigrants and refugees how to get driver's licenses and many more “Cookies with a Cop” events are coming up this summer to increase the force’s community engagement.

“We really are here to help them… to protect them and to serve them,” Hercules said. λ