A team of patrol officers is taking the Neighborhood Watch program, tweaking it and rolling it out in the downtown business district.
Officers Paul Medvegy, Lance Newkirchen, Tom Steinke and, more recently, Robert Braham, under the supervision of Sgt. Ed Greene, have launched the pilot program that they hope can be expanded to other areas of town.
"The big picture is that we are looking for creative and more effective ways of partnering with the community," Newkirchen said. "We rely so much on technology; we need to get back to the basics. A human touch and good, old-fashioned police work with a modern twist is really going to be nice for the downtown, and then we can launch in other areas."
The idea for the new kind of patrol arose when Greene's unit began working the day shift in the downtown area. The program is simple, and doesn't cost the department any money. It began with a letter sent to all the businesses along the Post Road corridor from Ruane Street to the Old Post Road, letting the owners know that a member of the team would be stopping by to introduce himself and answer any questions they may have about police coverage of the downtown district.
The letters asked for contact information so that the officers can share any information to help deter future crimes, or perhaps help solve one already committed.
"We're going to share with them, we're going to forward information to them to let them know what we need to investigate the crime," Medvegy said, and in the process, "put a name to the face. That's what we want -- we want to bridge the gap."
So far, they said, the response has been positive. Of the approximately 100 letters mailed, only about four declined to participate.
"It's been overwhelmingly positive," Newkirchen said, "because, at the end of the day, they want to partner with the police. We just need to figure out a better way to do it. It helps us, too. We have 108 officers, but we can't do it alone."
The officers hope that by getting to know the business owners, they will feel more comfortable calling the police when they see something that seems odd or out of place.
"For example, one business owner was concerned about loose bricks in front of his shop; he was concerned someone might throw a brick threw his window to break in," Greene said. "That's not typically a police matter, but we called public works, who came out and repaired the bricks."
Medvegy said they can also use the program to give tips to store owners on spotting shoplifters or counterfeit money, and what kind of locks they should use or where to position security cameras.
"I'm surprised more departments aren't doing it," said Greg French of Henry C. Reid & Son Jewelers. "The more we communicate with the police, the better protected we are and there's less opportunity for people breaking the law."
If they've been victimized by a shoplifter, Newkirchen said, they want store owners and employees to take note of things like a suspect's direction of travel after leaving the store; if the suspect left the scene on foot; was he or she walking away casually or running? A casual stroll, he said, could indicate that the suspect doesn't think they were noticed, and may decide to hit a nearby store.
The officers won't just be showing up downtown if they get a call, Greene said. One part of the program is making sure the officers are visible -- whether in a patrol car or "walking the beat."
Seeing officers out there, French said, "makes them much approachable in the future."
And if the business owners have questions, the officers want them to call. "Nothing is a stupid question," Medvegy said.
"We're setting up an environment that pays attention to the little things," Greene said, "which hopefully leads to an environment where the bigger things can be prevented from happening."