Nyssa police focus on building trust and relationships to stymie gangs

Ray Rau, Nyssa police chief, said he believes building relationships with the community is a key reason his city does not have a gang problem. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

NYSSA – Last September, Timber Godina came to Nyssa to see his girlfriend.

Godina, police said, arrived in town trailed by an Idaho felony warrant.

Police also said they believed he was connected to area gangs.

Godina’s stay in Nyssa didn’t last long. In fact, he was in town just a few hours. That’s because before he had been inside city limits more than an hour police were tipped off by three people.

When police arrived at the apartment where Godina was, they didn’t even have to knock. The mother of Godina’s girlfriend opened the door and asked them in.

“The word was he had a firearm and wanted to go down in a blaze of glory. Obviously, we can’t have that,” said Ray Rau, Nyssa police chief.

Godina, then 18, was arrested for resisting arrest and eventually extradited back to Idaho.

While Ontario grapples with a growing epidemic of gang violence, the Thunderegg Capital of the World doesn’t have that problem, Rau said.

“We build relationships,” said Rau.

Rau said his department’s almost singular focus on capturing the trust of the public has paid off as residents don’t hesitate to call police if they see or hear about criminal activity.

“A police department is only as successful as the community that supports it,” said Rau.

Rau said what he and his department of seven fulltime officers did to expel gangs from Nyssa “isn’t magic” but required a shift in outlook and a lot of hard work.

Rau, who became chief in 2012, said he pushed his officers to “get out of their cars and take the sunglasses off.”

That meant, he said, police talked to residents, got to know their names and what was important to them. That kind of police work provided its own benefits, said Rau.

One-on-one interaction between his officers and the public helped police collect information, create understanding and deterred support for gangs. Most of all, though, Nyssa’s brand of community policing built a bridge of trust.

Civic projects also paid off, said Rau. The police department, the city and the Nyssa Chamber of Commerce united to create community events such as the Movie in the Park.

“We sponsor two of those in the summer. Everyone donates resources. The last one, we had 250 people in South Park to watch,” said Rau.

An event like Movie in the Park gives the public direct access to the police.

“They know us. We walk around and talk to them. We give them free popcorn, free pop,” said Rau.

Rau said a methodical and thoughtful approach to police problems requires understanding different cultures.

“So, I have a gang member who does not like police but I go down and deal with his mother with respect. What does that show? Even the gang member who doesn’t like police sees we treated his mother with respect,” said Rau.

Rau said people connected to gangs live in Nyssa. They just don’t commit crimes there.

“Are there gang members who live in Nyssa? Absolutely. But you know what they don’t do here?” said Rau. “You need to deter the problem by having people recognize it.”

Jim Maret, Nyssa city manager, said the community is responsive when it comes to crime.

“We have two things. Community involvement. The community here does not want gangs. And we also have a very active police force that watches for any type of gang activity and tries to negate it,” said Maret.

Rau said one crucial step was scheduling.

“I scheduled most of my officers to be on during the busiest times,” said Rau.

He developed a spreadsheet that showed where and when the most crimes occurred, especially assaults and menacing.

“I put more officers out during those times,” said Rau.

Because he was already urging his officers to get to know residents better, information began to pour in about gang activity.

“The officers were known to the people who were being victimized,” said Rau.

Rau said once the information was coming in to police the next step was simple accountability.

“We started dealing with them, taking them to jail. When they resisted we used the appropriate amount of force. We targeted the problem head on based on criminal activity,” said Rau.

Another method Rau instituted was to stay on top of crime calls.

Rau said if a day shift officer responds to a call and doesn’t clear it by the time he goes off duty, a night shift policeman takes over the case.

“It is not just one officer’s call but everyone’s call,” said Rau.

That method paid off, he said, with more calls cleared and, in turn, more crimes solved. Last year the Nyssa police responded to about 5,900 calls for service.

So far Rau’s methods have been effective. For example, at one point, five of the top 10 members of the gang Brown Magic Clica, a notorious local gang, lived in Nyssa said Rau.

“None of them reside here now,” he said.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541 473-3377.