"It's important that the community really understands that law enforcement is here to help, we are here to make things better and we are a friendly bunch of people whose intents are always good in trying to ensure public safety," said Heber City Police Chief Dave Booth. That is one of the many reasons Booth got the Heber City Police Department involved in the Play Unplugged program back in 2013.
"In fact, Heber City Police Department was the first agency to roll out Play Unplugged in 2013. We were the pilot program and we, as well as different coalitions within the community such as the chamber of commerce, were really a big part of rolling that out, so we sponsored dare I say the first Brag Badge," adds Booth who believes it was that stepping stone that dramatically improved community relations. "I look at the relationship now that the police department has with the kids and the community and I point to the first Play Unplugged that the Heber City Police Department did in 2013 which I really feel started to grow a huge positive bond between the police department and the youth within our community."
With law enforcement/community relations at perhaps an all time low across the country with riots occurring in cities where police involved shooting have taken the headlines, Play Unplugged is a perfect program to begin improving community/police relations.
"I think the media does report both the good and the bad of what law enforcement does, and some of the media outlets are better than some of the others but what the public needs to remember is law enforcement is a profession like most other professions in the community and in this country we have our good moments and we have our bad moments," said Booth. "And every once in a while you will have an unprofessional law enforcement officer does things they are not supposed to."
Of course people tend to hear more on the national level of what the police are not doing correctly--especially these days with several shooting deaths and civil unrest as well as rioting going on in many cities. Although these rare instances are quite tragic, affecting many with the loss of a family member, if one looks at the overall picture of police interactions with the public, the good works they do far outnumber these tragic incidents.
"Our bad moments are very few and far between if you look at the statistical data of how many contacts with the public we do, we just don’t have many issues that arise. Quite often they are positive outcomes where law enforcement is able to come in and help and be a part of coming up with a great solution," said Booth.
And that is why programs like DARE and McGruff The Crime Dog have become tools for law enforcement to interact with the public in a positive manner. But not many police departments are aware there is a new community program growing and now being offered which allows the same, positive interaction for officers to humanize themselves and build ties with the community. It is called Play Unplugged and it is working.
"Play Unplugged offers businesses the opportunity to see an increased level of foot traffic into their businesses if they sponsor Brag Badges which are earned by kids doing the various activities Play Unplugged offers," said Heber City Councilman Erik Rowland. "And here in Heber City we thought since the police department is an organization, why not let them sponsor a Play Unplugged Brag Badge!"
...and so Chief Booth did.
"We saw it as a tool to help get the kids off of their duffs if you will, and get out and start doing something. At the time that we looked to rolling this out which was 2013, we were seeing a lot of school violence around the nation, mass violence where shooters were going into schools and causing devastating circumstances. And as the studies started coming out that a lot of this was relating back to violent video games and programming our kids to think certain ways and to think certain things," said Booth. "And really our intent was two-fold ; to get the kids out of the house, get them breathing fresh air and getting out and hiking and biking and just getting them out and about and just seeing what is out there and living the normal childhood that probably most of us grew up with. Second to that was vital. Heber City and the Heber City Police Department is very pro-business. We are pro individuals opening up different businesses and making a livelihood out of it. Anything we could do to help partner with them and bringing more customers to their stores and showcasing what types of products they have and showcasing what services they offer here in the valley, we were very much in favor of trying to do that."
Booth also made sure the Brag Bagdes his department offered were highly valued to ensure kids were motivated enough to interact with his officers.
"All the Brag Badges have a valued differently," explains Booth. "The Heber City Police had a high value badge and I did that on purpose so the kids would for sure seek us out throughout the year. And I have great officers here and they always give a positive experience with the kids."
Once that inaugural summer of participating in Play Unplugged had passed, the Heber City Police Department found great results with Play Unplugged in offering their officers a tool to open the door for conversations and to begin building strong relationships that would be renewed summer after summer with the kids and their parents.
"The kids were lining up looking for the Brag Badges and it was such a huge success and it really was all positive," adds Booth when thinking about the first year Heber City Police sponsored a Brag Badge. "Play Unplugged was the only avenue of getting families and kids into the businesses and showing them what businesses are doing and then getting the kids out into the community so they are not sitting around being bored, committing crime or mischief or other things they often do if you are not keeping them active."
And that perhaps is the main message of why Chief Booth has become such an advocate for Play Unplugged. It is the program's ability to help officers begin a dialogue in a positive, constructive manner with the citizens they serve and protect. In a day when everyone is touting the whole "Black lives matter" or "My life matters", Play Unplugged is an equalizing force to ensure the community sees a law enforcement officer as a human being, and allows kids and parents alike to find common ground with them.
"I think so because sometimes parents have a vision or an idea if you will about how the police interact with everybody. And quite often they associate that with a negative interaction so to be able to have the parents watch us get on our knees and talk with the kids on their level and to joke with them and have fun with them and laugh with them and have the parents see that we have a sense of humor and that we are human and we are a part of this community," said Booth. "I would say give it a try and you wont regret it. You will find that your businesses love the marketing aspect of it and using Play Unplugged as a vehicle to get customers inside your store and you will find you will have a stronger relationship with your businesses but really the most important thing is that you will find that your kids are out in the community engaging in good things and your officers will one hundred percent of the time have a positive interaction with the youth that they encounter with the Brag Badges. And how often can you say that? That one hundred percent of the time it will be a positive interaction with law enforcement. Because honestly we do deal with a lot of negative. We are an enforcement entity to keep our community safe and by doing that we do need to hold people accountable. What else can you do to come in with a program like this and say, ‘hey, were always going to have a positive interaction that will build trust and community commitment within the areas that you live', and it is a great, great program."