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University Circle police win honor, thanks to a little Grace

Posted August 31, 2023 in Articles

Author: Nate Flauto

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The University Circle Police Department ends the “dog days” of summer with an award.

The department has been recognized by the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police and the Law Enforcement Foundation as “Agency of the Month” for September for its community-oriented police work.

And they have K-9 officer Grace to thank for it.

In 2018, the two organizations formed the Community Relations and Engagement joint committee to amplify community-based work conducted by police departments across Ohio.

This month, they selected the University Circle Police Department (UCPD) as their monthly recipient for having implemented a new method of community engagement -- Grace the community police dog -- among their other ongoing efforts for community policing.

Having a K-9 unit with Grace’s designation is a newer practice in policing. Her job is different from a traditional law enforcement K-9, whose purpose is to smell, chase or track in a law enforcement situation.

In her role with the department, Grace will help comfort victims of trauma, calm tensions within the police station and be a diplomat between the department and the community.

In a press release, the committee wrote: “(The community police dog program) is certainly a program that could be extended throughout Ohio and the nation for others to try. We are grateful for the ongoing efforts of our Ohio agencies of leading the way for positive outcomes in community policing.”

For UCPD and Interim Police Chief Thomas Wetzel, the recognition is a welcome accolade, as the department has not won an award of this kind to date.

“When we got the news, I was absolutely thrilled,” said Wetzel. Especially since this award is a personal highlight for Wetzel, who has been a proponent of community policing throughout his 30-plus year career in law enforcement.

In an interview with cleveland.com, Wetzel described community policing as one of the department’s central philosophies.

He noted that UCPD has had a longstanding culture of community policing in its nearly six-decade history, but that it has never been more critical for police to be community stewards in addition to law enforcers.

“Community policing is about relationship building, friendships and trust between the police and those we serve,” Wetzel said.

Now, with Grace, the department has an outreach tool to help bridge the disconnect between the department and community, he said.

Her early success has already earned her a commendation from the Cleveland Police Foundation, which is donating a bulletproof vest for Grace to protect her in the line of duty.

Outside of the community policing dog program, Wetzel said they are committed to assisting the community in other ways outside of strictly law enforcement.

For example, the department will send an officer to help someone with a situation that is not crime or law enforcement, such as helping someone jump their dead car battery or providing a safety escort.

Not only that, but he is encouraging his officers to participate in the community by doing youth outreach, finding speaking engagements and by forging other ways to make inroads with citizens.

The chief also says the department is closely tracking how officers engage with the community -- how many foot patrols they go on, number of warning citations given -- in addition to how they are enforcing the law.

Original Article: https://www.cleveland.com/community/2023/08/university-circle-police-department-named-agency-of-the-

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