Part peace officer, part social worker, Oak Bluffs Police Officer Savannah Barnes is deeply rooted in the community she serves.
Early in life, Barnes wanted to be an EMT. That changed at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, when she saw the grace with which police de-escalated sticky situations involving her teenage peers. That’s when she changed career ambitions: “Community policing — that became what I wanted to do,” the officer recently told The Times during a session of Crochet with a Cop. Wasting no time fulfilling that ambition, Barnes became a traffic officer at 18, directing traffic on the streets of Tisbury.
As a peace officer, Barnes wears a badge, carries a firearm, and has the power to arrest. Such work gives her plenty of opportunity to encounter citizens with unmet needs — housing, nutrition, medical care, maybe just someone to talk to — and connect these individuals with help.
That source of help is often the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging (COA), where administrator Rose Cogniano is skilled at connecting clients with needed services. The Oak Bluffs COA is one of 350 municipal agencies in Massachusetts, also known as senior centers, whose mission is to provide local outreach, social and health services, advocacy, information, and referral for older adults, their families, and caregivers. The Oak Bluffs COA is also the site of Officer Barnes’ Crochet With a Cop initiative.
Barnes learned to crochet early in life from her grandmother. “Then I forgot about it for a while,” she explained to The Times, “and picked it up again in high school as something to do in winter.”
Crochet with a Cop is Officer Barnes’ local reinvention of Coffee with a Cop — the international movement to build connections between the public and law enforcement. Started by California’s Hawthorne Police Department in 2011, the Coffee with a Cop community policing effort helps break down barriers between officers and the people they serve.
Local sessions of Coffee with a Cop are presented by the OBPD the first Wednesday of each month at 10 am at the Oak Bluffs Senior Center.
“Crocheting with a Cop is a little different,” explains Barnes, “providing a chance to talk in
a smaller, more intimate setting, to ask questions about concerns that they might not want to ask in a less relaxed environment.”
Much good flows from these small crochet gatherings, in addition to strengthening the relationship between police and community. Hats crocheted by the group are donated to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital for use in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where preemies are often in need of some handmade love. These tiny creatures have disproportionately larger head-to-body ratios compared with older children, meaning they can lose a lot of body heat through their heads. Hats help regulate body temperature.
Research shows crocheting can help ease the pain of arthritis, distract from chronic pain, reduce depression, and slow the onset of dementia. When you knit or crochet regularly, you force your brain and your hands to work together, maintaining your fine motor skills. It can also improve and maintain dexterity and strength in your hands, which can be great for those who would like to improve their grip.
According to Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in mind-body medicine and author of “The Relaxation Response,” the repetitive action of needlework can induce a relaxed state like that associated with meditation and yoga. Once you get beyond the initial learning curve, knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure, and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Officer Barnes graduated from Cape Cod Municipal Police Academy last July. In addition to her work as a full-time member of the Oak Bluffs Police Department now, working four 10-hour overnight shifts each week, Officer Barnes is a student at Bridgewater State University, pursuing a degree in criminal justice.
Crochet with a Cop is held Tuesday afternoons from 2 to 3 at the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging, 21 Wamsutta Ave.