Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Bowie police community liaison shifts to full-time role

Officer plans to coordinate safety training and seminars

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Brenda Ahearn⁄The Star
Officer Bennie Henderson expects to become a full-time community liaison for Bowie on March 1.
For Officer Bennie Henderson, community engagement is a full-time job.

After taking on the responsibilities of a community liaison while he was still working as a patrol officer, Henderson received so much response that he was assigned to the job permanently.

Henderson has had no time for a vacation since joining the department in February. When he was off a few weeks after being injured in a car accident in December, residents called the police station to find out where he was.

Henderson has worked with four new Neighborhood Watch groups since spring, and he is working to transfer some of the groups working with Prince George’s County police over to Bowie police.

‘‘People ask how much time they put into the Neighborhood Watch, and I say the more you’re involved, the better your community will be,” Henderson said.

One of his first goals as full-time community liaison, which he expects to start March 1, is to organize Neighborhood Watch groups in communities that do not have homeowners associations, which provide a built-in mechanism for getting neighbors together.

The goal of Neighborhood Watch, Henderson said, is to encourage neighbors to be aware of what is going on in their neighborhoods and to call the police if they see anything suspicious.

‘‘We need to know what’s going on in the community,” he said.

One example Henderson cited was in the fall when school began and neighbors in the Oak Tree neighborhood noticed that cars were not stopping for the school bus stop signs.

Officers were assigned to monitor the area, and Henderson was able to report back to the neighborhood what they were doing about the problem.

Henderson often communicates electronically with Neighborhood Watch representatives, e-mailing police reports and asking for the community to be on the lookout for suspects if necessary.

Among Henderson’s other plans for his new position are coordinating safety training for residents of apartment complexes and safety seminars for business owners.

A native of Philadelphia, Henderson worked for District Heights Police Department for two and a half years before moving to Bowie in February — one of the original six patrol officers hired by the department. In 2007, he was named ‘‘Officer of the Year” by the Knights of Columbus in Bowie.

Deputy Chief John Nesky said Henderson is a ‘‘prototype” of the type of officer Bowie wants to hire – both the type of person someone would want to ‘‘shoot the breeze with” and have respond to an emergency.

He said the community’s response to Henderson has been positive.

‘‘This community is very, very engaged, and this is what they expect out of their police department,” Nesky said.

E-mail Megan King at mking@gazette.net.