This week’s “Thankful Thursday” would like to honor Ashley Bautista, a community engagement specialist for the past 4 years with the Ventura Police Department for her approach in forging and building relationships in their community. In her previous life, she worked at a private public affairs firm by telling people’s stories and helping forge relationships with communities. She began doing the same for the department and its officers, who she quickly grew to admire. “These past few years have been an incredible opportunity to learn about a profession I knew little about and tell the stories through different eyes. I don’t wear a gun belt, I don’t drive a police car, but it’s an honor to represent the profession and really be a bridge to the community they’re serving.” said Ashley.
According to Police Chief Ken Corney, Ashley is a tireless worker with valuable skills in social media and community outreach. Other police departments and law enforcement professionals have only praise for the work that Ashley has been doing. It is clear that Ashley believes deeply for the work and cares about the city. Chief Corney and others said, “Ashley has a true passion for public service and a belief the policing profession is a positive influence in communities.”
Last month, she was the only civilian nominated by colleagues along with other police officers, deputies, and detectives for the “12 Under 12”, an award given for the first time this year by the California Peace Officers’ Association. The award was developed to “recognize the rising stars” of law enforcement who have less than 12 years of experience. Bautista was also nominated as a recipient for the “40 Under 40”, an award given by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The award is similarly nomination-based and recognizes leaders from across the globe. This year’s recipients were chosen based on their commitment, leadership and dedication to the profession and their community.
In the past, the department’s community outreach consisted primarily of Neighborhood Watch and other in-person gatherings. Because of Ashley, the city’s social media presence grew from 4,000 to more than 33,000 Facebook followers. With Instagram, Twitter and Nextdoor, the city has reached over 80,000 followers.
In one community outreach approach, Ashley saw a police officer on the road and asked him to participate in an anti-panhandling campaign. She asked the officer to hold a series of brown cardboard signs to encourage people to give to charities instead of to individuals asking for money. “Let’s work together!” one sign says, before going to the next, which reads, “To make things better.” The video was filmed by Ashley on her iPhone. The video had over 184,000 views and 2,911 shares. Police departments across the country began to film their own version of an anti-panhandling campaign for their communities.
Presenting police officers as people:
For Ashley, humanizing the police has been a major focus for her. She has seen officers buy homeless people shoes, watched repeatedly as officers risked their lives in dangerous situations and to rescue a baby following a horrible incident. Ashley said, “The officers are moms and dads and they’re just doing their jobs, but their jobs require them to put their lives on the line. They’re real people. I know they would do anything for anyone.” Ashley, who speaks Spanish, has also focused on reaching out to the Spanish-speaking and immigrant communities to ease their fears of the police. Her goal is to have the residents develop relationships with the officers and to know they are accessible.
“My goal is to build community trust so no matter where you come from you know you can turn to the police department for help,” she said. Ashley has organized fundraisers to raise money so the officers can bring youth from the city’s heavily Latino westside neighborhood to Dodgers games, on surfing trips, movies and other outings.
Of all the many things she’s done for the community of Ventura, she is proud of restarting the Community Academy, an eight-week, once-a-week class that lets people know what police do and how to reduce the chance of being a crime victim and to share that information with the community.
Some of the participants have been candid about their negative experiences and feelings toward police. Upon meeting each other, they learn the similarities between them, whether they wear a badge or not. Each academy class has the capacity of 50 and the most recent class drew 167 applications. Ashley said, “I’m a mom and my kids are young, and I just want a community that’s a safe place for everyone,” she said.