December 1, 2021

Cortland police work to build trust, one step at a time

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Community Oriented Police Officer Jesse Abbott plays a daily round of pool with Gabby Carr, 14, of Cortland at the Cortland Youth Bureau. BELOW: Police Officer Jesse Abbott hangs out with Thomas Fields, 17, left, and Laney Beach, 16, Wednesday at the Cortland Youth Bureau.

Fritz Mullen stood in the aisle of his Main Street office supply shop and chatted with Officer Jesse Abbott.

Mullen, 94, remembered those days 60 and 70 years ago when a cop would walk a beat, chat with a shop owner and a be a real friend they could relate to.

Jesse Abbott is working to be that kind of officer.

Abbott is the city’s community-oriented police officer. The four-year position was created with a $125,000 grant from the federal Department of Justice. The idea is to increase communication and partnership to prevent crime and to build trust in police.

So Abbott walks the beat, chats with people and works to build a stronger relationship between the community and police.

Even when it’s windy and maybe 15 degrees. Weaving in and out of businesses was a chance to get warm, too. This is what his Wednesday was like.

The Cortland Flower Shop at 11 N. Main St:

“We’ve never had any problems here,” said co-owner Jason Lilley.

Well, except that time someone sprayed graffiti behind the shop. Lilley said police finally caught the person, but it’s still nice having Abbott around.

The relationship between Lilley and Abbott was comfortable enough that Lilley asked a quick question. Should a person who is carrying a firearm with a permit acknowledge the weapon if approached by an officer?

Abbott said he would let the officer know. “It keeps everyone safe.”

Mullen Office Outfitters Inc. at 28 Main St:

Employee Chris Totman said having Abbott around is great. “If you see him walking (downtown) people think ‘Oh my god, there’s a cop.’”

When Abbott checks in with the store, Totman said the two chat about basketball — the Syracuse Orange, mostly. “He’s great to have around.”

Tompkins Trust Co. at 36 Main St:

“Jesse is very personable,” said branch manager Mary Robillard.

Robillard has known Abbott all his 39 years and thinks he is a good match for the position. “He just comes in and smiles.”

It’s a disarming smile. It discourages crime, she said. And she just has to feed him some candy.

City Youth Center at 35 Port Watson St:

The time spent at the center is the fun part of the day, Abbott said.

The teens swarmed Abbott with excitement. “It’s been really fun (having him around),” said Charles Batsford. Abbott plays pool and table tennis. He jokes with kids.

Abbott always cracks jokes, said Lorie Bethel, youth service specialist. “The kids definitely look forward to him being here.”

Maybe because he’s a mediocre pool player.

Gabrielle Carr, a ninth grader at Cortland High School, looks forward to the part of her day when she gets to square off against Abbott in pool. She said she wins. On Wednesday, it was close — well, until Abbott sunk the eight-ball when he shouldn’t have.

One arrest Since his time on the job, Abbott has made one arrest — someone smoking marijuana downtown. He offered her the choice of being handcuffed or just strolling with him to the police station.

That’s not the job, he said. The job is to be a presence in the community and build a relationship.