WESTBROOK — Police Chief Janine Roberts’ commitment to helping minorities is not only a goal driving an upcoming open house, it’s work that recently won her an award.
Roberts was awarded the Courage is Contagious award by the University of Maine School of Law. The ceremony last week was part of a Justice for Women lecture series put on by the university.
The police chief, who is the second annual Courage is Contagious honoree, said she was “caught off guard” by the recognition. She said while she’s honored by the award, her work is part of a team effort by the Westbrook Police Department.
“What I do I don’t do by myself,” Roberts said. “We’re all in this together.”
According to a letter to Roberts from the university, the award is given to a woman who has achieved professional success and has made an impact on the community. Specifically, the woman must do work that helps women and girls in Maine and work that brings together and supports diverse communities.
Danielle Conway, the dean and professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law, said Roberts is “a force for good in our community.”
“In addition to being a stellar public servant, she has embraced our newest residents and citizens as if they were her own family members,” Conway said in an email. “She is intrepid in forming partnerships to empower women and girls so that they become change-agents for their communities.”
Roberts said working with Westbrook’s immigrant and refugee population has been important to her, especially in the wake of the anti-Muslim notes left near Westbrook Pointe last August. She said she’s been working to connect with Muslims and with organizations that work with minorities.
“I’ve been working with Zoe Sahloul (of the New England Arab American Organization) to further her efforts to help minority women be more comfortable and get services they need,” Roberts said.
Part of this effort includes hosting an open house at the Public Safety building, located at 570 Main Street. The event, which is free and open to anyone, is scheduled for Saturday, April 8, from 1-4 p.m.
While all residents are encouraged to attend, Roberts said the idea for the open house was conceived in response to the incident last summer so that immigrants and minorities can feel more welcome.
“We’re working on how we as a community, and a police department, can further develop our relationships with any minority, but also with Muslim women, so they can gain our trust,” Roberts said.
Sahloul, the executive director of NEAAO, said she’s very happy with how welcoming and helpful the police department is and how sensitive it is to the needs of minorities.
“I’m seeing a wonderful effort made by the police department,” she said. “Hopefully this will make people feel more integrated into the community.”
Roberts said it’s important to “break down barriers” and show people that police officers, fire fighters, dispatchers and EMTs are friendly, helpful people.
“It’s an opportunity to meet some of our staff in an environment that’s open and positive and not crisis driven,” she said.
Sahloul said many immigrants and refugees associate law enforcement and emergency responders with traumas they’ve experienced. She said she hopes the open house will help to “alleviate the fears and anxiety.”
“It’s important to show that these groups are here to help and protect,” Sahloul said. “They’re human like we are.”
Roberts said she and her department are aware of how different cultures may view law enforcement.
“This isn’t something that shifts in a matter of weeks, months, or even years,” she said.
The way to work through this is “recognizing that we need to establish and maintain relationships,” Roberts said.
Sahloul said the open house sends a message that “makes the community feel safer and more inclusive.”
“There’s lots of assurance that they’re here and we can talk to them,” she said. “It’s comforting.”
Many immigrant and minority families Sahloul knows are planning to attend the event, she said. Roberts said she hopes many people come as it will provide an opportunity to tour the building, interact with emergency vehicles and equipment, and ask questions.
Snacks and beverages will be provided as will a suggestion box. Roberts said the police, fire and EMS departments are interested in hearing residents’ concerns and ideas.
“Hopefully this is a two-way learning opportunity,” she said. “It’s also an opportunity for us to learn about the needs and concerns of the community.”
Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.
Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts on March 23 received the Courage is Contagious award from the University of Maine School of Law for her work helping women, immigrants and minorities.
Westbrook Public Safety is hosting an open house on April 8 from 1-4 p.m.