- Associated Press - Saturday, February 13, 2016

HICKORY, N.C. (AP) - For more than 25 years, the Hickory Police Department has focused on working alongside the community it protects - a tactic designed to strengthen relations between officers and citizens.

“We want to respond directly to problems, when and where it happens,” Lt. Scott Hildebrand said. “It’s about us getting out of our cars so the community doesn’t just see us driving by, but they can see and talk to us.”

The Adam PACT (Police and Community Together) covers the northwest section of Hickory, ranging from Highway 321 to Highway 127. It stretches up to Lake Hickory. PACT Commander Hildebrand, along with two other supervisors, leads 11 patrol officers.

“We are trying to make the community feel better about interactions with the police force,” Hildebrand said.

According to Hildebrand, the PACT routinely attends community events and even holds their own events, such as Coffee with a Cop. This particular event, which is part of a national program, was held by the Adam PACT three times in 2015, giving citizens a casual space to speak with police officers.

Hickory Chief of Police Tom Adkins started out in the first PACT, originally called the Ridgeview PACT.

“I was very fortunate to have been a part of the original Ridgeview PACT,” Adkins said, who served as a PACT supervisor from 1991 to 1995 and as a PACT commander from 1999 to 2000.

The original zone started with six officers but expanded several times before becoming the David PACT.

Currently, the police department has five PACT zones: Adam, Baker, Charles, David and Edward. The town once had plans to add a sixth zone, according to a press release on the Police Department’s website.

“We were looking at establishing a sixth PACT zone, but it got merged into the existing five,” Adkins said.

Adkins explained that the new schema is to annex new areas into the existing zones, in order to maintain consistency of the boundaries. The original PACT boundaries were created in 1993 based on calls for service and to keep neighborhoods together.

The concept of community policing began in the 1980s and is still used by police departments nationwide. The Hickory Police Department adopted the community policing principles in 1990, under the leadership of former Police Chief Floyd Lucas.

“The approach we use in the City of Hickory has definitely helped the relationship between the community and police. Community policing has not only strengthened the relationship, but has also reduced the level of crime and the fear of crime,” Adkins said.

Arrests increased and incidents decreased from 1990 to 1994, in the first four years of community policing in Hickory, according to a press release.

Master Police Officer Soua Vang has worked in the Edward PACT for over 20 years, and checks in on elderly residents in his zone frequently.

“The more you get to know people, they will just start calling you personally,” Vang said. “Instead of just calling the police, some people will call officers they know.”

Vang’s early experiences with community policing involved stopping and meeting with his zone’s residents in his downtime. He even keeps tools in his car in case a resident needs assistance.

“Sometimes we do things outside of police work,” Vang said.

Vang does not enjoy issuing tickets as much as he does getting out of his car and patrolling neighborhoods. He explained that the community policing tactics have helped with community relations.

As the public grows more comfortable with their zone’s officers, they become more willing to give information to the police, he said.

“It’s helped a lot - with all the media surrounding police, with us, we don’t have those kinds of problems,” Vang said. “These other officers you see in the news, they don’t get out of their cars.”

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Information from: The Hickory Daily Record, http://www.hickoryrecord.com

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