Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cooperation the Hallmark of Community Policing; Program Revitalizes Westside Complex

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cooperation the Hallmark of Community Policing; Program Revitalizes Westside Complex

Article excerpt

Byline: Tia Mitchell, Times-Union staff writer

When describing their Westside Jacksonville neighborhood, residents of the West Chase apartment community often use before and after references.

Before, their little cul-de-sac off 103rd Street was run-down and crime-ridden, they say. Everything since last summer is considered after -- after the police, residents and landlords pledged to work together and revitalize the neighborhood.

"I heard the drugs were a big problem," said Luichina Farrior, who moved in three months ago. "They said you couldn't walk through here. The after is a lot better; it's cleaned up so much."

West Chase is a unique community because it is an apartment complex with various owners among the different buildings. But it is also like many other low-income minority communities -- working people, young families and a reputation for criminal activity.

The problem got the attention of Sheriff Nat Glover during one of his monthly beat walks last summer. Jacksonville police decided revitalizing West Chase would work only if everyone got involved, including landlords, residents and beat officers.

This cooperation is the essence of community policing, the modern trend in law enforcement. Community policing urges police agencies to be proactive in their efforts, focusing on the causes of crime instead of waiting to respond to a call for service.

A majority of police departments nationwide now embraces this trend of crime prevention. According to the U.S. Justice Department, two-thirds of municipal police departments and 62 percent of sheriff's offices had full-time officers assigned to community policing efforts as of June 30, 2000. Community policing first emerged in the early 1980s and has slowly spread to the smallest towns in America. It was brought about by civil unrest during the 1960s and '70s, which highlighted a disconnect between police and citizens.

From the time he was elected, Glover has been working to advance the philosophy within the police department, implementing many programs designed to better connect officers with citizens. And now, all three sheriff candidates say they will keep most of the programs and build upon them.

Gilbert Moore, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said the program has manifested itself in many ways around the country.

"It looks different everywhere you go," he said. "In some communities, community policing can be something as simple as having bicycle patrol, where in other places community policing is a total organizational shift."

Officials agree community policing is not a passing trend.

"We think the future is bright," Moore said. "One thing we know is that community policing has taken over in a big way."

Jacksonville police say West Chase shows community policing pays off in large dividends. But it also highlights the difficulties of building bridges within a neighborhood where police traditionally have been perceived as adversaries.

At West Chase community policing is still settling into its foundations, with both residents and police saying work remains to strengthen the base.

AN EXTENDED PROCESS

Crime prevention officer Gary Oliveras was assigned to West Chase on Aug. 14, the day after the sheriff's walk. Wanting a first-hand experience of the neighborhood, he drove through at night a couple of days later.

"I'm a veteran police officer that carries a gun, and the neighborhood had an uncomfortable feel to it," he said. "It was in pretty significant decay."

During subsequent daytime visits he made note of overgrown landscaping and run-down buildings. Lighting was poor, even non-existent near some buildings, he said.

Work began soon after, starting with arrest sweeps that netted drug dealers and thieves. Building owners worked with city officials to install street and porch lights. …

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