When Harris County Constable Sergeant Philip Bennett rolls into an Energy Corridor cafe to grab a cup of morning coffee, most days he gets a side of conversation and questions from patrons to go with it.
And that’s fine with Bennett because for this veteran peace officer, taking the time to cultivate relationships with residents and businesses in The Energy Corridor District is at the root of a community policing strategy designed to curb crime.
Bennett – who graduated salutatorian of his police academy class in 1999 – has been patrolling The District since January 2016. He supervises three officers working to keep the Energy Corridor community safer as part of a contract with Precinct 5 Constable Ted Heap’s office. He became Patrol Sergeant for Heap in 2004, just five years after joining the Constable team.
We asked Bennett why those morning cups of java have become an important ritual.
What is a day like patrolling The Energy Corridor District?
Sgt. Bennett: One of the vital parts of a patrol officer is visibility and contact with citizens in the community in which they serve. My day usually starts with a cup of coffee – caffeine is important – at one of the local coffee shops where is not unusual for me to spend time answering questions for some of the patrons.
The Energy Corridor is made up primarily of local small businesses and large energy companies. I do my best to check as many as these locations as possible on a daily basis. I also patrol the apartment and hotel complexes in the area.
You and your officers seem to be on the move a lot, using both patrol cars and mountain bikes.
Sgt. Bennett: Visibility is crucial as a criminal deterrent. It is important to be seen as much as possible. It is one of our goals to not only deter crime, but also give the citizens of our communities the assurance we are indispensable to them.
A public conditioned by police movie heroes like John McClane might not think that taking the time to chat with people over coffee is effective.
Sgt. Bennett: The littlest thing could turn into something big or may provide a crucial piece of needed information to law enforcement. We as police officers are here to serve our communities – and there is nothing too small or trivial or unnecessary.
The Energy Corridor, in my opinion, is one of the safest places to live and work, in the Houston area. That being said, I would encourage people to always be mindful of their surroundings both while at work and at play. And if you see something, say something.
The Houston Police Department also covers The District. Why is it important to have a constable patrol, too?
Sgt. Bennett: Our officers are assigned specifically to The District. That’s a benefit because it enables them to be part of the community and become well-acquainted with the citizens here.
We provide increased visibility, along with the additional resources our department has available. I think one of the best things about our partnership with The District is the new relationships that have been created with many of the energy companies and businesses owners.
How many patrol hours a week does the Precinct 5 team cover for The District?
Sgt. Bennett: There are four officers assigned to The District, patrolling eight-hour shifts, throughout a twenty-four-hour period, with each officer working a standard 40-hour week. A usual week constitutes 160 hours of patrol.
What are your other duties as sergeant for Harris County Precinct 5?
Sgt. Bennett: I am the commander for the department’s Honor Guard, which is present at funerals for fallen officers and other civil servants. I have served on the honor guard for nearly 16 years. In addition to my duties as the district sergeant, I sit on the interview boards for potential new hires.
What motivates you to be a police officer? Just the nature of your profession presents daily challenges that would frustrate most people.
Sgt. Bennett: The best thing about my job is the chance to make a difference in someone’s life and to be a part of something greater than myself. There have been many outstanding men and women who had long, distinguished careers – and I try to honor their service everyday with my example.
The least favorite aspect would be the shift work and the time I’ve spent away from my family.
Speaking of family …
Sgt. Bennett: I enjoy spending my downtime with my wonderful wife and three beautiful children. I have a teenage daughter and 10-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. When I am not chasing them around, I enjoy reading, photographing and music.
With our coffee barely cooled down… Bennett was eager to get back to patrolling The District. Which is understandable for someone who’s been in criminal justice his entire adult – one with a Bachelor of Science in Law Enforcement/Police Science from Sam Houston State University, an eight-year stint as a correctional officer (primarily as a shift sergeant at a psychiatric unit), 18 years with the Constable’s office, and now a year-and-a-half getting to know the residents, employees and businesses around The District.
For more information about The District’s public safety program, visit here