During the height of the pandemic, community members in Ashland became concerned about the skate park at the REACH Youth Access Center (REACH) being taken over at night by people drinking and tagging walls with graffiti.
“The park was a mess,” said Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ASCO) Deputy Daniel Murphy. “Families didn't want to go back. The nearby youth center was concerned, and the schools were concerned, because this criminal element had just kind of moved in.”
Deputy Murphy’s first instinct was not to make arrests, but rather to reach out to other community agencies and nonprofit partners to develop solutions to increase the safety of the space. By partnering with the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (HARD), REACH staff, and the San Lorenzo Unified School District, he came up with a plan to deter the graffiti by adding vehicle gates to the parking lot to prevent car access late at night when the crime was taking place and increasing the wattage of the parking lot lights. He also worked with the Patrol Division to increase patrols at night and proactively during the day.
The plan worked. The graffiti slowed down to a trickle, saving approximately $10,000 in repainting costs.
The nearby Ashland Little League baseball park, located next to the Edendale Middle School, was also being vandalized with graffiti, and the fields were in bad shape. Deputy Murphy took the initiative again. First, he wrote a proposal to Sheriff Gregory Ahern to request funds to improve the baseball park. The Sheriff contributed $25,000 to refurbish the fields and put in irrigation systems to make fields more playable for local youth. Next, Deputy Murphy began working with community artist Bobby Arte to design concepts for a mural to be painted at the skate park. Colorful murals discourage graffiti, especially when they involve local artists and youth. The mural planned for the skate park will incorporate images of skateboarding and other activities that will appeal and resonate with the community of users.
Deputy Murphy’s approach to solving public safety issues is one that ACSO has proudly employed for nearly two decades. It’s a community-driven and project-based policing framework that gives officers the flexibility to solve problems creatively and collaboratively. Called Community Capitals Policing, it’s based on building relationships with youth and adults in the community and engaging them in activities that are built upon their existing cultural strengths. Deputies in ACSO’s Youth and Family Services Bureau are trained to prevent crime before it happens and make enforcement and arrest the tools of last resort.
“Community Capitals Policing is not only proactive at stopping crimes but also looks at root causes that are driving citizens to commit crimes,” explained Deputy Murphy. “It develops partnerships within the community to build upon pre-existing community culture.”
Deputy Murphy has served in multiple capacities in the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, most recently as a School Resource Officer (SRO). ACSO has been providing SROs to schools in the unincorporated County since 1989. Today, one Sergeant and eight Deputies serve in 35 schools in the San Lorenzo and Hayward Unified School Districts, as well as the REACH Ashland Youth Center.
At Edendale Middle School, Deputy Murphy worked with school administrators, staff, teachers, families, and students to create a safer school climate and culture. His job involved helping to identify youth at risk and connecting them with the resources they need to succeed and recreational activities that provide a positive outlet.
“I walked the hallways, saying hi to the kids, saying hi to the school staff, working with the schools to be more of a counselor than a law enforcement officer,” said Deputy Murphy. “We helped guide them away from going into the juvenile justice system by getting them into DSAL activities—like soccer or boxing—or counseling services that are available through ACSO’s Youth and Family Services Bureau’s Behavioral Health Unit. We try to identify partners and solutions to improve whatever situation the kids are going through or need help to resolve.”
During the pandemic, when schools were being taught at a distance, Deputy Murphy was also instrumental in setting up a free “Learning Hub” for youth. Located at the Canchitas soccer park, the Learning Hub was designed to help kids learn, stay active, and avoid social isolation during the pandemic. The Canchitas—a safe practice field constructed by ACSO and DSAL in 2017—includes two street-soccer fields so kids can practice and play during breaks in their academic schedule. Importantly, the Canchitas Learning Hub also provided welcome relief for parents trying to juggle working while homeschooling their kids.
Deputy Murphy hopes the work he’s done in the schools and with youth has created a positive impression on the community he serves and will help change the perception that people have of law enforcement.
“Especially during the time that we are in, it's important that the kids see the positive side of law enforcement and not the negative side that is constantly portrayed in the media,” he said. “It's about changing their negative experiences or negative conceptions and turning them into positive ones.”
Deputy Murphy was very valuable to REACH and our partners. He worked with H.A.R.D. (the operators of Jack Holland Park), the school district, Ashland Little League, and REACH to bring folks together to support physical changes to make the Ashland Youth Complex safer and better utilized.
We’re a youth center situated inside a public park. Having somebody like Deputy Murphy to bring structure to the surrounding park space is really important because it allows REACH to be better utilize the outdoor space.
He helped produce physical improvements at the baseball field. It was looking pretty rough for a while, but Deputy Murphy was able to secure funding from the Sheriff’s Office to resuscitate those fields.
He also addressed the graffiti by working with H.A.R.D. to broker a permanent mural on one of the walls—and that’s a better approach than constantly painting over graffiti. His impact can’t be underestimated.
For me it’s clear that you can see an investment in this area paying returns. You have a park, but if the park gets run down, or if the park is only safe during some hours, you really don’t have the full community benefits of a park. You lose the resource. What the Community Capital Policing effort has done in this instance is allow it fully utilized as a park as envisioned.
Erik Sakamoto, MPA
Executive Director, REACH Ashland Youth Center