Coatesville PD, Times’ image honored by DOJ

Viral shot of officer and kids in splash pad wins COPS June photo award

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

COATESVILLE — It was a hot summer day in the city — and arguably around America — as tensions between police and urban citizens seemed to be boiling over, but the temperature took a sudden and welcome drop locally when a city officer, in full uniform, took a couple of city kids along and went through the city’s new Splash Pad, last July.

The image of a city police officer — who has asked to remain anonymous — and two city children went viral and made its way around the world as a symbol of community policing at its best — an image shot by Times’ News Editor Lauren Parker, as she covered the event for us. That image and the city police’s efforts on community policing have been honored by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS) as the June 2017 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest.

Although the photo captures just one moment, policing in Coatesville has changed dramatically since the hiring of former State Police Major Jack Laufer as chief. A formerly dysfunctional and, at times, scandal plagued department has become a true force for good in the community, reaching out and connecting with the citizens they serve.

“We’re kind of unique in a way—we have an advantage in that we’re just under two square miles,” Laufer said in the statement issued on the award. “We want to provide good quality policing. We use more of a holistic approach, as opposed to having one officer assigned as the CSO [community service officer]. We encourage ‘park and walks’ where officers get out of their cars and get into the community—whether it’s playing basketball or checking on the local businesses. We encourage that and we’ve been pretty successful.”

The officer just literally jumped in, and Parker was there to capture the moment.

“At a time when police were (and still are) under attack, simply for doing their jobs, I posted this photo to show who our police are – human beings just like us – with families and friends who hope and pray they come home from work everyday,” Parker said this week, after learning of the award.

Ironically, later that day, another city police officer would be attacked without provocation — leading to the injury of another officer, who responded to assist.

Without question, the Coatesville Police Department continues to face challenges. After decades of fiscal mismanagement by the City Council, budgets have been slashed and manpower is at a low ebb, in a city where seven homicides took place in 2016.

But even with those challenges, there is a clear perception in the community that things are better, that the police department is there to make Coatesville not just a safer place, but a better community, Parker noted.

“As a reporter and a member of the community, I have always been impressed by the Coatesville Police Department’s presence within the community. Nights, weekends or weekdays, officers almost always attend events in the city,” she said. “When the officer in the photo asked a group of children who had gathered around him, ‘Who wants to run through the splash pad with me? I grabbed my camera and snapped the photo.

“To me, this picture conveyed that we can be a community with our police, if we simply let them.”

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