Strengthening relationships and encouraging communication are goals behind a Reynoldsburg Division of Police "Illumination Project," which kicks off a monthly initiative with a meet-the-chief event.

Residents are invited to meet new police Chief David Plesich from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 2, at the Reynoldsburg Police Department, 7240 E. Main St.

Plesich said he hopes to talk to as many residents as possible that evening.

"We thought we would kick off our monthly communication sessions with a meet-the-chief night," he said. "We want people to feel free to express their ideas and concerns.

"It is critical we establish good relationships with our community," he said.

He said every event wil have a question-and-answer session.

"We want people to tell us what we are doing well and what we need to do better," he said.

Community-resource officer Michele Fulton is coordinating the Illumination Project, which she said is designed not only to foster closer relationships between residents and police officers but also among neighbors.

"If you start knowing your neighbors, you watch out for each other," she said.

Each month will have a different theme and not all events will take place at the police department.

"We'd like to have one about fraud and what to do about it -- probably at one of our local banks," Fulton said. "That way, we would have experts available to let people know what to do if they are a victim of this type of crime."

Fulton said themes would be based on community concerns, so residents should speak up and suggest topics.

"I think it's important to educate the public and let them know that we are here to help," she said.

Too many people make up their minds about police officers based on what they see on news channels or online, she said.

"We want to explain to people why officers are cautious when they approach your car, or when you pull a cellphone out of your pocket suddenly," she said. "They can learn why we follow certain procedures, for our own safety -- and theirs."

She said the effort is designed to help officers and residents work together to "respect the importance of public safety and individual rights."

"People can tell us what they see happening in their neighborhoods and how they think we can help," she said.

She said some community events could be fun and educational, such as "Cops and Bobbers."

"We hope people would come out and bring their kids so we could all go out and fish together at a local pond," she said. "Whatever we can do to strengthen community bonds between residents and police officers is important, and we hope people know that our greatest goal is to keep them safe."

Plesich was hired in late March after serving as a patrol officer in Charleston, South Carolina, for nearly two years. Before that, he served as a lieutenant in the patrol bureau and detective bureau at the Hilliard Division of Police from July 2011 to June 2016.

Plesich also is an attorney, licensed to practice in Ohio and in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio. He earned his law degree from Capital University Law School.

He and his wife, Kathleen, who is retired from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, have three grown children.

When Plesich was hired, he said his focus would be "community policing."

"The two most important components of community policing are communication and relationships," he said. "We want to be the most respected agency in the state."

Learn more about the department's special events on the Reynoldsburg Division of Police Facebook page.

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"Whatever we can do to strengthen community bonds between residents and police officers is important, and we hope people know that our greatest goal is to keep them safe."

-- MICHELE FULTON

RPD Community Resource Officer