DPS increases its efforts to engage with community

Last week, Department of Public Safety officers began carrying red and gold trading cards emblazoned with pictures of USC football players. The cards are intended to serve as an icebreaker for officers to interact with children in the community as part of a department-wide effort to expand community involvement.

This push is led by Elizabeth Carreno, head of community relations for DPS. She pitched the idea to DPS Chief John Thomas several months ago, modeling it after the way Los Angeles Police Department officers used to carry baseball cards for kids to collect. She collaborated with the Athletics Department to select players and collect statistics and pictures to create cards for 12 football players.

For the past year, officers have carried sticker “badges” to give to kids. That initiative saw great success — after going through an initial order of 2,000 badges, Carreno had to order another batch of 5,000, then two more batches of 10,000 badges apiece. She decided that the trading cards would be another way for officers to interact with the younger demographic.

“There’s a saying that people won’t remember what you do for them — they’ll remember what you do for their children,” Carreno said. “I think that’s definitely true, in any community that you’re working in, so we want to make that positive connection.”

Carreno was attentive to the details in making the trading cards. Along with typical statistics such as position, height and weight, the back of each card includes the major of the athlete to remind the children that USC athletes are students as well. She hopes that children in the community will be encouraged to dream of futures in which they are USC students. Each card also includes a quote from a DPS officer offering inspiration about staying safe and making smart decisions.

“It humanizes the officers in a way that is difficult to do,” Carreno said. “The uniform can be intimidating, especially for the younger kids, but that’s not what the officers are there to do. We want to break down that intimidation and make the community comfortable with our officers.”

Thomas addressed the fact that tensions between police officers and communities across the country have risen in recent years. This was the main impetus behind his decision to create Carreno’s department. He applauds her for constantly brainstorming new ideas to increase both DPS and USC involvement with the community.

“There’s a pressure to make sure that our community can trust us,” Thomas said. “We’re going to rise to that. We’re going to make sure they know we’re on their side.”

In the future, Carreno hopes to include trading cards for basketball, baseball and soccer players. She is also working on other projects to expand officer involvement. These include assigning officers to foot beats, hosting “Coffee With A Cop” events and installing Little Free Libraries in local neighborhoods.

“We can’t arrest our way to a safer community,” Thomas said. “If we want a safe community, we have to work to create it, and that takes constant involvement to make people feel safe.”

This post has been updated for style and clarity.