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BIPD officers getting personal

There is an intrinsic challenge faced by the Bainbridge Police Department.

Though small in population, the city it serves spans 28 square miles; an area larger than Brooklyn, New York City.

“That makes it somewhat difficult for officers to go out and interact with their community in a meaningful way,” Deputy Police Chief Mark Duncan said.

To foster those personal connections the department has begun a program Duncan calls “interactive policing,” drawn along the same lines as the nationwide trend of “community policing.”

In April, officers in pairs adopted nine sections of island and have been tasked with getting out and getting to know the residents of their sector along with their regular duties.

The idea is for officers to stay abreast of the needs of a particular area of the island, and find creative ways of solving problems there. It’s also a way for residents to put a familiar face on the department, and understand how it can serve them, Duncan said.

Presenting the program to the Rotary Club Monday, Duncan said officers dove headfirst into their assignments.

“These officers are taking these on as their pet projects and really taking ownership of these neighborhoods,” he said.

In deciding how to divide the island, Duncan had a ready-made tool at his disposal.

City Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Ed Call has already been organizing community mapping programs. He helps neighborhood groups record what resources are at their disposal, and draft a plan in case of disasters such as severe storms or earthquakes.

As a related effort, the city mapped the island out into nine zones. The zoning allows emergency responders to report the status of each area to the city’s Emergency Control Center, and begin building a picture of what neighborhoods have been hardest hit and locate critical needs.

Each zone also has an emergency information kiosk where updates will be posted even when phones and Internet are down.

Duncan decided to use those already established areas as the framework for the departments interactive police work. Officers drew zone numbers out of a hat and went to work familiarizing themselves with the people who live there.

The officers were given no instruction on how to connect with residents, and they took varied approaches.

Many dispersed flyers introducing themselves to the community. One pair hosted their own forum at Lynwood Center, while another sniffed out barbecues in marinas on the north end.

In the spring some found school bus stops to be a handy place to meet kids and chat with parents.

Soon officers were hearing directly from residents what concerns were bubbling in their neighborhoods and were able to respond, Duncan said.

They set up radar checks on streets where residents were worried about speeding trafffic and when they heard reports of over-serving and drug use at downtown night spots, officers went in undercover.

Meanwhile, the officers are building contact lists so they can communicate quickly with large cross sections of their communities. For example, if there is a string of burglaries on Wing Point, an officer can send out a mass email warning homeowners in the area to be vigilant and to report suspicious activity, Duncan said.

Duncan is encouraging the officers to use their intimate knowledge of neighborhoods to solve issues creatively. That could mean working with a young driver to drive more carefully, rather than just writing out tickets, or checking in on disputing neighbors before their disagreement can make the police blotter.

But what he doesn’t want is officers taking on the role of neighborhood babysitter.

“We don’t want everyone to think that all we’re doing is getting out there to be nice,” Duncan said. “It’s still law enforcement.”

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Find out who your neighborhood officers are by calling 842-5211. City Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Ed Call may be reached at (206) 473-7818. North end officers are hosting a community gathering at Bainbridge Athletic Club and Meadowmeer Golf Course Aug. 8.

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