Racine, Wisconsin — Growing up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Racine, Wisconsin, Kamari Andrews says his reaction to seeing police was instinctive.
“My impression of law enforcement was to run from them all the time,” the 17-year-old said.
But that started to change five years ago when he met then-Officer Tim Cisler a few houses down the street from his own.
The COP House, which is short for Community-Oriented Policing, is one of six homes manned by a lone officer whose job is to know everything happening in that neighborhood. The houses are spread across the city and leased by the Racine Police Department. Officers are assigned to three-year posts at the homes.
“So anything that occurs in that neighborhood, they should know about it. Trends in crime, if there’s a spike in that from vehicles or if there’s a spike in shootings, you should just keep a finger on the pulse,” Cisler said.
Police Chief Maurice Robinson said it’s changed the community’s approach to policing because “they know that we’re accessible. We’re not an occupying army. We’re here to help.”
The houses also serve as community gathering places, including a space for children to get together and a place for the Salvation Army to feed the neighborhood.
Crime has fallen in one neighborhood by 70% since police moved in, according to the Racine department.
The program was put to the test during protests last summer after a COP House was set on fire. Residents defended a COP House officer after someone threw an object at him.
“You’ve got to be quiet because they’re respecting us. So you need to respect them. Otherwise, you’ve got to go,” a resident was heard saying on police body cam video from the incident.
Andrews, the 17-year-old resident, credits the COP House and Cisler for helping keep his life on track. “I would have been like some type of dude who was not really making good decisions in life. It took me a while to get it, like a reality check,” Andrews said. “I was going in the wrong path. I was only like 11 years old, hopping business, breaking windows.”
Cisler has since become a detective but has remained in the teen’s life. “An incident occurred and he got into some trouble, and I said, ‘Look, man. I didn’t run away from you last time. I’m not going to run away from you this time.'”