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By Craig Braack

Bridging Challenges and Community: The Hornell Police Department’s Compassionate Commitment

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Chief Murray talks about the challenges of “protect and serve” in the Maple City

By: Johanna Elattar, photo of Chief Murray at a recent ceremony by Syrena Lynn Carver

On a crisp autumn morning, I had the opportunity to sit down with T.J. Murray, the Chief of Police at the Hornell Police Department. Our conversation shed light on the ever-evolving landscape of law enforcement, the challenges they face, and the proactive initiatives they have taken to serve their community.

Chief Murray highlighted the dynamic nature of police work, emphasizing how the daily activities at the station can change dramatically. A significant factor contributing to this unpredictability is the pervasive presence of mental health issues and drug addiction within their jurisdiction. The “Opioid Epidemic” and the recent legalization of cannabis have added another layer of complexity to their responsibilities, as they’ve seen an uptick in drug-related crimes.

One notable aspect of the Hornell Police Department’s commitment to community service is their dedication to ensuring that a live officer is always available to answer emergency calls. In an era where automation often takes precedence, knowing that a real person is just a phone call away can provide invaluable reassurance to the city’s residents.

Furthermore, the officers in the Hornell Police Department are not only well-trained but also highly knowledgeable. Their expertise allows them to tackle the multifaceted challenges they encounter daily. Additionally, these officers strive to engage with various community facilities, such as the YMCA, to build strong partnerships that enhance public safety.

The Hornell Police Department also takes a proactive approach by assigning officers to specific cases, ensuring that individuals always have a consistent point of contact. This practice not only builds trust but also streamlines communication and resolution of cases.

The dedication of Hornell’s police officers extends beyond their professional duties. Many officers go above and beyond by using their own resources to assist the homeless population, providing food and clothing to those in need. Nevertheless, the ever-increasing demand for such aid underscores the limitations of available resources.

One of the critical elements Chief Murray addressed during our discussion is the issue of burnout among police officers. The mentally and emotionally taxing nature of the job can take a toll on the force. To address this, the department offers counseling and therapy services to support their officers’ mental well-being.

The Hornell Police Department has a strong commitment to outreach programs designed to assist the community. Programs such as “Deactive Shooting” educate individuals and businesses on how to respond in the event of a shooting incident. Officers also visit schools, accompanied by “Snitch,” a yellow lab trained in drug detection, and discuss safety and other vital issues with students. Additionally, many officers dedicate their time and effort to volunteer for various causes in Hornell.

However, the Hornell Police Department is not without its fair share of challenges. A significant hurdle they face is the shortage of mental health resources and facilities to aid the mentally ill. The growing number of people in need of mental health assistance, coupled with the overwhelming demand for these services, has become an increasingly complex problem. The opioid epidemic further exacerbates their challenges, as the department contends with the consequences of drug addiction.

Recruitment for the police department has also become more difficult in recent years. Prospective officers must confront the daunting task of addressing the rising prevalence of mental illness across the United States, coupled with the scarcity of mental health resources. Chief Murray stressed that recruiting individuals who can navigate these challenges effectively is an ongoing concern for the department.

Within the walls of the Hornell Police Department, a host of services is available to the community. They provide “real” IDs for travel and offer free bike helmets and baby car seats to those in need. These efforts represent the department’s dedication to community welfare and safety.

Over the years, the Hornell Police Department has adapted to meet the changing needs of their community. One such transformation involves increased scrutiny of officers with a history of repeated complaints. Individuals with more than three complaints against them in a five-year period now face involvement from the Attorney General’s office.

The department has also implemented measures to enhance transparency and accountability, with defense attorneys gaining access to police officers’ personnel files. In the age of technology, body cameras are now worn at all times, ensuring that interactions between officers and the public are recorded. Furthermore, officers receive training to foster diversity and equity, fostering a more inclusive and equitable approach to policing in Hornell.

The Hornell Police Department operates in a rapidly changing environment, addressing the challenges posed by mental health issues, drug addiction, and evolving legislation. Despite these obstacles, the department maintains a commitment to serving the community with a human touch, using their knowledge and resources to improve the lives of Hornell residents. The proactive outreach programs, dedication to community welfare, and initiatives for officer well-being are a testament to their enduring commitment to public service. As they adapt to the demands of contemporary society, the Hornell Police Department continues to stand as a pillar of safety and support for their community.

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