By Samantha Smith
As tension between police and the public dominate the current social climate, public perceptions of local police departments have been mostly positive in Hays County.
Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett said that while Kyle police officers are aware of the events across the country, they are lucky to be a part of a “supportive community.”
“The residents of Kyle have been outstanding in showing their support for the police force in Kyle,” Barnett said.
Barnett said officers are always encouraged to be careful and back each other up on service calls if possible.
“Kyle residents have shown a tremendous amount of love and support for our officers in Kyle,” Barnett said.
Following an incident in Dallas where a lone gunman killed five officers, supportive residents brought gifts to Kyle Police headquarters.
Buda Police Chief Bo Kidd described similar resident reactions in Buda to the national issue of violence toward the police.
“We (BPD) have been receiving lots of support from the Buda community during this national crisis,” Kidd said.
Buda Citizens Academy 2014 graduate Stacey Morgan shares Kidd’s’ view that the public perception of the Buda police department is positive.
“We are so blessed to not have any divide or animosity between Buda police officers and the public,” Kidd said.
Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler reported similar support for his deputies by Hays County residents.
“The Hays County Sheriffs Office and the public we serve work closely and cohesively together so there is not a discernable divide between us,” said Cutler in an emailed response.
But Morgan said there might be a correlation between the size of a city in relation to the residents’ perception of the police force.
“Maybe in a bigger city there is not as much interaction between the public and the police,” Morgan said.
One key aspect of the positive public perception of police in Kyle, according to Barnett, is the development of a positive relationship with residents before any controversial event occurs.
“Developing a rapport with the community before a controversial event is important,” Barnett said. He added the department interacts with community service programs, homeowners associations, and programs like Cops in HD (Honest Dialogue) and the Kyle Citizens Academy.
Public interaction with police was the goal behind the Cops in HD program, started by Kyle residents Dallas and Maria Lee in 2013.
“The Cops in HD program means exactly what it says it means. Honest Dialogue between police officers and citizens where each party listens to the other before responding without fear of retaliation,” Lee said.
Both Lee and his wife, who have a history of involvement with law enforcement, saw a need after witnessing prevalent negative attitudes toward police officers, based primarily on images perpetuated by the media.
“There is a chasm between citizens and the police right now,” Lee said. “We are a visual society so when images hit the media on cop violence, people are quick to judge without always knowing the facts.”
The cities of Kyle and Buda have participated in the Cops in HD program and have had positive responses from the public interaction between residents and officers, Lee said.
Lee, who has lived in the area since 1987 and is black, said that he has been stopped by police officers seven times since he first moved to the area. He says every time he gave the officer no other choice than to be respectful.
”The police are not your enemy, they’re your friend, if you let them be,” Lee said.
Kidd said the country needs strong, positive leadership to help navigate its citizens away from the cliff’s edge so to speak.
Cutler expressed his appreciation for the support shown by residents, but concern as well for the scenes of violence that have become an everyday occurrence across the country.
“It concerns me greatly that a very small minority of people are resorting to violence or questionable behavior to try to get their views recognized,” Cutler said. “My hope is that individuals will come together in a peaceful way to address these issues and encourage change by using our legislative and democratic process.”