North County Police Cooperative Captain puts community engagement and the forefront of his mission to protect and serve
By Charlotte Beard
Though there are some segments of society that just pursue the punishment side of law enforcement, there are other segments of the society that truly take interest in the justice side of the law. Captain Clay Farmer of the North County Police Cooperative (NCPC or the Coop), who expresses a heart for criminal justice, believes in using community engagement to build trust and position himself as a liaison between the community and law enforcement.
Farmer, an alumnus of Normandy Senior High School shared, “Post high school I did the college scene for a little while…I went for criminal justice. I worked for Foot Locker Cooperation for a while then I (began to feel) I was wasting my time. I always had that passion for the criminal justice side. With both of my parents being ministers, I grew up seeing them always give back and wanting to help people. I also had an issue with crime. It was kind of odd.”
Farmer went on to explain that these two factors played a role in his decision to resume his pursuit to be involved in criminal justice. There was a police officer who worked secondary across the hall in the former Northwest Plaza at another store, with whom he would often have conversations.
“We would always talk when I saw him at work. One night I saw him working and he (said), ‘Why don’t you come out and do a ride along with me.’ I was like, ‘Really? Get in the (police) car with you?’ (His response was), ‘Yeah, come on.’ I rode with him one shift and I was like, ‘Boom! I’m in.’ I was sold. So that’s how the Captain Farmer journey began. From there I got hired as a corrections officer with the Northwoods Police Department. When I went to the police academy, I became a full fledge police officer. I worked there one year then I transitioned over to the Venita Park Police Department which is now the Coop.”
Today NCPC has a Ride with The Captain Program for participants ages 18 and up.
Farmer was promoted to captain in 2013; he has been with NCPC since 2001. NCPC currently serves the following municipalities: Wellston, Pine Lawn, Vinita Terrace, Vinita Park, Beverly Hills, and Velda Village Hills. Farmer shared that he has worn many hats in the department. His current role makes him responsible for the department’s recruitment and hiring, public relations, and community engagement, just to name a few of his hats.
Farmer has sought solutions to reduce the barriers between law enforcement and the community. When he was promoted to captain in 2013, one opportunity NCPC began offering was hands-on experience of the police simulator training to members of the community. In the community members’ sessions, attendees are paired-up like police partners and presented with real life police/possible criminal encounter scenarios. Each participant is armed with a simulator gun and introduced to a life-size encounter projected onto a wall with whom they can actively communicate and give orders as law enforcement would. The experience gives participants an opportunity to assess their own immediate responses and reactions whether in the case of a perceived or unexpected threat.
“We are required to train on it as officers,” stated Farmer. “I was thinking this would really be cool if we opened this up to the community. Give them a chance to come in here, experience what we experience, and we get to see it from their side. We get to hear why they feel the way that they do; that will start some great conversation towards a solution.”
Farmer talked to Attorney Wesley Bell about his idea with whom he had established a friendship long before he decided to pursue the office of St. Louis County Prosecutor.
“He (stated), ‘I don’t usually listen to you, but I think this is a good idea,’” Farmer shared with a laugh. “It’s great when he does the legal side and I do the law enforcement side. So, people get to see an attorney and an officer in the same space; we make the space safe. You can fire-off anything you want – you can ask us anything that you want. Nothing is off the table. We’ve had many groups. We’ve had protest groups, Black Lives Matter groups, people who love the police, church groups, youth groups, At-Risk teen groups, Job Corp…so many. We take them all. We don’t turn (anyone) down. We don’t just want people to love us. That’s easy. We don’t have to convince you all or get you all to see what we see and try to come up with something. We want the people who don’t think like us. And I really, truly work with them and ask, ‘Hey, what can we do to make this thing better?’ It’s been very successful. We do the (simulator) all the time.”
The St. Ann Police Department allows the sessions to be conducted at its facility. “Chief Jimenez is awesome, he’s been so supportive of us since we started,” stated Farmer.
“This is free of charge in partnership with St. Ann who allows us to use their simulator free of charge as well, so we can host community groups,” Bell shared. “We try to make it fun because it’s a community policing initiative. It’s a way for people to get an opportunity to interact with members of law enforcement and myself being a prosecutor, in an environment that you normally don’t get to do so.”
He also shared that some businesses have used these sessions as an opportunity for team building. They do a minimum of 10 to 20 people per session. This allows everyone ample opportunity for the hands-on experience and discussion. Requests for a session can be made via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, a message to Farmer’s Facebook page (Clay Farmer (Capt)), or by phone: 314-428-7373.
NCPC also partners with Beyond Housing in its Humanity in the Middle. The program serves the Ferguson/Florissant and Riverview School Districts.
Farmer, who also coaches a youth basketball league states, “I know it may sound cliché, but you can truly do and be what you want to be. Some will try to hold you back. If you’re smart, they will want to make you feel bad for being smarter. Don’t let a bad experience dictate your next experience or keep you from doing something that you were made to do. Even if you have a bad interaction with an officer, I know this may be hard for some people, don’t carry that to the next officer because the next one may be the one to give you a total break or is nothing like the other one.”
Farmer desires to see the community engagement continue among law enforcement long after he is no longer serving as captain.
Bell shared, “I think it’s important that we on the law enforcement and prosecutor side show the community what we’re doing. Sometimes what we do can be shrouded in mystery to a certain instinct. We want to not only show them what we’re doing (but also) have their input on how we’re doing it. Give them an opportunity to get to know members of our law enforcement. I don’t think there is any more important relationship between law enforcement and the community. It’s important for us to get out in the community, get to know people, let the community get to know us. That builds trust; without trust you don’t have a justice system.”
Farmer also works for the Peacemaker Defense Group that will be providing their Power of One course on Dec. 29 at Beyond Housing, located at 6506 Wright Way in St. Louis. He will be one of the trainers. The course is a defense and empowerment course for women. The class starts at 5 p.m. and admission is $50 per person. To sign up, visit www.peacemakerdefensegroup.com.
To see the other things NCPC is doing to make a difference in the community visit: http://www.northcountypolice.com.
CUTLINE: Submitted photo Captain Clay Farmer of the North County Police Cooperative believes in using community engagement to build trust and position himself as a liaison between the community and law enforcement.