Two local police officers are visiting Haiti this week as part of an international exchange with the island nation’s police force. In return, Foxboro will welcome two Haitian officers at a later date.
Patrolman Stephen McGrath, 54, and detective Patrick Hoffman, 32, departed on Sunday and are scheduled to return today (March 29) as part of the International Police Exchange program, headed by chief William Baker.
Details on the Haitian officers who will be visiting Foxboro have yet to be confirmed.
The two officers had a busy schedule in Haiti, which included meetings at the U.S. embassy, Haitian National Police Headquarters and the local police academy, as well as touring the Haitian History Museum, being interviewed on Haitian radio and visiting with the organization “PeaceCYCLE.”
They’ll be leaving from Boston and returning from Port-au-Prince.
According to Baker, the exchange program is intended to connect the Haitian National Police to a progressive U.S. law enforcement agency and to expand the global understanding of American law enforcement personnel.
“It is a unique opportunity to travel to another country and observe how its police department serves it citizens in comparison to how police officers in this country serve its citizens,” McGrath said. “And personally being able to see the culture of another country is exciting.”
McGrath previously served as a reserve officer, and was appointed to the department full-time in 2007.
He said one of the most important functions of the Foxboro police under Baker’s leadership is community policing — maintaining a strong relationship with local citizens.
“No matter the race, national origin, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, everyone is entitled to receive the same level of police services,” said McGrath, who makes a point of spending time during his shift engaging with people in the community.
“They have brought up the strained relationship police have had with minorities that had been received a great deal of new coverage over the past years,” McGrath said. “This has led to me gaining their perspective while I shared mine.”
Hoffman, a full-time Foxboro officer for six years, said he believes the trip will provide him with a rare opportunity to learn about law enforcement in another country.
Hoffman said that to be an effective, police officers must be exposed to all types of policing methods. In addition, he said that when called upon to resolve a neighborhood dispute or domestic violence call, it’s helpful to have an understanding of the people the officer is assisting.
“My hope is that after visiting Haiti, I will develop a better understanding of the Haitian culture and as a result be able to develop stronger bonds with the Haitian community back in Foxboro,” Hoffman said.
One of the week’s scheduled activities was to have been a visit with the organization PeaceCYCLE. A small start-up business founded in 2014 by American Rose Heimann, PeaceCYCLE aims to educate and employ persons in Haiti, promoting eco-friendly practices, and empowering individuals and families to be self-sufficient.
More specifically, the firm is described as being in the “upcycling” business — which refers to converting waste material or useless products into new materials or products of better quality.
“We are very excited to meet Foxboro officers who will be coming on the exchange program,” Heimann said.
Baker, who has served in a number of state and national law enforcement roles as well as participating in organizations devoted to civil rights, said the exchange will provide officers greater understanding of diverse individuals and cultures within their own community.
It is similar to a program he had created in Laconia, N.H. to sensitize officers to refugees, immigrants and communities of color.
“I developed a great understanding and sensitivity to the plight of refugees and immigrants coming here,” he said. “I wanted to replicate that here.”
Not coincidentally, enrollment at the Foxborough Regional Charter School includes a large number of students of Haitian background. According to school administrators, of 1,465 students enrolled at the school 266 households speak Haitian/Creole.
Baker said such experiences could help produce a generation of police officers who experience the world beyond the borders of Foxboro and help them bolster relationships within the community.
“My hope is that this program causes Foxboro to be recognized as a progressive community that cares about the world community and is taking steps to be a good citizen of the world — a community that cares and makes a difference not just in our own backyard,” said Baker.