Ashland police see value of bike patrols in community policing
by BRANDON SHULLEETA
Patrolling a shopping center on his bike, Ashland police Sgt. Scott Menzies was accosted by a woman who shouted, “Are you a guard?”
“I am a police officer. But sometimes people call me a guard,” Menzies responded, looping back toward her.
“Somebody left their pocketbook,” the woman said, handing him a purse that had been left in a shopping cart near Walmart.
Returning a purse to its rightful owner was among Menzies' many tasks during a daylong bike patrol Monday.
Bike patrolling has become a mainstay for the Ashland Police Department, particularly in the past two years. This year, Police Chief Douglas A. Goodman Jr. said the department's officers had patrolled a total of 1,475 miles by the end of August.
“The bike has a number of different advantages. Not only are you able to maneuver in somewhat of a stealth fashion through the town,” Menzies said, “it's a great way to connect with the community.”
On this particular day, trailed by a reporter, Menzies clocked in 41 miles on a police bike designed for both street and rugged terrain. He responded to a report of suicidal behavior, for example, followed a lead about suspicious behavior behind a cemetery dumpster, and checked on dozens of Ashland businesses.
Menzies, a 12-year veteran of the department, is one of several officers who patrol by bike. There's a bike patrol officer on the streets of Ashland almost daily.
Menzies waved at passers-by, greeting several by name, and he often stopped to ask if they needed help with anything. He conducted multiple rounds of checks with business operators, looking for signs of distress.
At one point, he passed a convenience store clerk who peered through a window and gave Menzies a nod, prompting a thumbs-up from Menzies.
After talking with one man, Menzies later noted: “We arrested him multiple times but still have a good rapport.”
At one point, Menzies met with a worker at a video game store who told Menzies that he was expecting a large crowd later because a popular video game was due out. Menzies told him he'd let the department know and an officer might help with crowd control.
In the Ashland Woods apartment complex, Menzies stopped to check on a group of people and chatted briefly with children, including a child he'd previously seen hurt his lip after taking a hard fall while playing.
“You got a gun?” the cheerful child asked, eyeing Menzies' handgun. “Can I feel your gun?”
That request was swiftly denied. Menzies advised the child that guns were dangerous.
Nearby, a young girl skipped toward Menzies with a wide smile as he checked on the Laurel Wood apartment complex. He asked if she was wearing new shoes, and told her to let officers know if she ever needs anything.
Touting what he called a “stealth advantage,” Menzies snuck up on cars parked in sketchy locations. On a couple of those occasions, those inside appeared to notice him only after he was already beside their windows.
Menzies told the story of a driver with alcohol in his system whom he had once caught drinking and driving.
Often, it's also easier on a bike to catch wrongdoers fleeing by foot, Menzies said, and being able to hear what's happening on the streets is a plus.
Goodman said bike patrols are part of an effort to earn the community's trust. The department has proactive programs that include visits with seniors, for example, campaigns against drunken driving and nighttime checks on businesses to make sure doors are locked.
“If we don't have the community's trust, we can't be as effective as we need to be. And the only way to earn that is by open communication,” Goodman said. “And the bike patrol definitely has enhanced that.”
Menzies said he believes the on-the-ground presence is also a crime deterrent.
Ashland, which is about 7 square miles, is small enough for bike patrols to be effective, Menzies said. Having memorized the town's landscape and shortcuts, and mastered maneuvering the bike quickly and down stairs, he sometimes beats police cruisers to response scenes.
It's also a good way to increase officer fitness.
Menzies often wakes early in the morning and runs several miles, before performing administrative work at the office and then patrolling by bike usually for 20 to 30 miles per day. He says being in good shape is vital, to effectively react to whatever he might face when responding to calls.
Goodman said fitness is a key focus of the department, and plans to have officers' fitness levels tested in an obstacle course that's being built.
Arizona police departments get $5.4 million to hire more officers
by D.S. Woodfill
Police departments across the state will get about $5.4 million in federal grants in order to hire more officers.
For some departments, it will be their first new positions since the recession hit Arizona and the rest of the nation. Previously, they'd only been hiring to fill vacant positions.
The grants from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services were announced Thursday by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, whose city got the lion's share – nearly $1.9 million.
“Today is a great day for public safety,” Stanton said.
He was joined by Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia, law-enforcement leaders from around the state — including Yuma, Glendale and Peoria — and Joshua Ederheimer, acting director of the Justice Department's COPS program.
Phoenix's share will pay for 15 officer positions, all of whom will be assigned to schools as part of the department's School Resource Officer Program.
“We worked hard for this grant,” Stanton said. “Councilman (Daniel) Valenzuela and I personally went to Washington and visited with the Department of Justice to make the case why this particular grant in the city of Phoenix (is) incredibly important for our young people.”
Garcia said the Phoenix Police Department, like other Valley policing agencies, has made sacrifices to help the city keep a balanced budget since the economic downturn. Police administrators had to look for other sources of revenue, like grants, to maintain staffing.
“These grants from the DOJ will allow us to continue ... adding much needed officers in our community,” he said.
A portion of the grant money will go to Phoenix police's Business and Economic Stability Team, which is a group of officers who focus on catching criminals that traffick stolen goods and counterfeit merchandise.
“Some of these funds will help pay for their training, overtime and software that will help us find and prosecute those who are causing great economic loss to our city,” Garcia said.
Ederheimer said the agency has awarded $14 billion to cities, counties and tribal governments since 1994, facilitating more than 124,000 law enforcement jobs.
About 7,000 of those jobs were added in the past three years.
“They've been delivered during a time when cities have had to make tough choices as it relates to public safety,” Ederheimer said.
Ederheimer said the COPS program takes into account criteria such as a city's fiscal need, crime rates, and the effectiveness of community policing efforts.
“It's not just about delivering money,” he said. “It's about providing valuable resources to agencies with a legitimate need and the ability to achieve ... solutions.”
Peoria Police Chief Roy Minter Jr., whose department got $375,000 to hire three officers, said the funds are sorely needed and will help the department create its first new positions since the economy tanked.
“This is huge for us, and it's huge for the city,” Minter said. “We have been, and continue to be, one of the fastest growing cities here in the West Valley, so it's important for us to continue to maintain a high staffing level.”
Minter said the new officers will be assigned to the department's community policing program. Officers in that unit are assigned to specific parts of the city and work to form strong relationships with business owners and residents when not tending to regular duties.
The Glendale Police Department received the second largest grant, about $1.3 million, which will pay for 10 officers.
“These will be patrol officers, and we are going to use them to continue to fight violent crime in Glendale,” spokesman Jay O'Neil said. “That's going to be their main focus.”
Police departments win grants to hire new officers
by Dave Nyczepir
The U.S. Department of Justice awarded $750,000 in grants on Tuesday to the police departments of Indio, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs and Hemet so they can hire new officers.
Across California, 39 cities and counties received grants from the DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to create a total of 105 law enforcement positions.
COPS also named Arizona's seven grantees in the $125 million-plus program. A full list of grants will be released Sept. 30.
U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, a Palm Desert Democrat, on Thursday congratulated the four departments in his congressional district that received funding.
“This grant will provide much needed funding to add more police officers to the force and help build safer, stronger communities across the 36th District,” Ruiz said in a statement.
Coachella and Hemet's police departments received $250,000 each, while Indio and Desert Hot Spring's departments received $125,000 each.
Primary state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies could apply for the FY 2013 COPS Hiring Program. Grantees were selected primarily based upon their fiscal needs, local crime rates and community policing plans.
Cities identifying homicide and gun violence as a problem, requesting money for school resource officers or committing to hiring military veterans received additional consideration, but they're locked into how they spend the funds.
Twitter Helps Upper Darby Police Dept. Expand Its Reach
by Sarah Glover
A local police department has called upon Twitter to fight crime and spread cheer.
The Upper Darby Police Department started using the hashtag #udhero this week with the intention of establishing a positive trend and recognizing good deeds by local heroes.
When a school day ended earlier this week, the department passed out 75 T-shirts to students who have done something good. In addition, followers can tweet their good deeds for a social shout-out and, possibly, a T-shirt.
"The only prerequisite to get a T-shirt is that you can't do anything illegal or get arrested wearing that T-shirt," said Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood. "The kids like shaking hands and taking pictures with them (the officers)."
Chitwood has become a rock star of sorts to the young legion of @UDPolice Twitter followers.
"It's funny we have the police department on Twitter. People laugh at it," said Upper Darby High School student Jackie Achtert. "We all think it's great they are on there. They keep the community informed."
It's not all fun and games, however. Fighting crime is serious work.
"One day we are giving out T-shirts (at the high school), and are locking up a 16-year-old kid for 81 bags of heroin and $716 in cash," said Chitwood. "We tweet things happening and are trying to get in touch with people."
Area businesses sponsored the T-shirt giveaway, so there's no cost to taxpayers. Chitwood said he'll continue to give out the T-shirts as long as they have sponsors.
Earlier this week, Achtert said students starting tweeting the Upper Darby Police Department asking why there were cops flying by the school.
There was an incident which resulted in a minor being arrested.
The @UDPolice handle has drawn attention because of its snarky, quirky tweets and comedic, crime-fighting approach.
"Social media has become very popular and every agency uses it differently," said Nancy Kolb of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. "We really see community policing turn to modern policing. Departments are meeting people where they are and engaging them were they are and their virtual communities."
Cops are people, too, and humor can help humanize the officers, according to Kolb.
Chitwood believes Twitter is a "very positive method of communication" and he even joined Twitter last Sunday through his own account.
His first tweet: "My world has changed again!!!! Now learning to "Tweet". Is this a tweet? Stay tuned......"
The Upper Darby Police Department started a Twitter account in March. But with no money in the budget to hire a social media manager, a cop with a current workload was charged with picking up the posting tasks. That officer has done so with personality, answering mentions and messages.
The man behind the tweets is a secret, a ghost tweeter per say.
The handle has kept followers tuned into the next funny tweet, such as Thursday's tweet: "Male arrested-entered fast food rest and struck victim in face then threatened with knife. He had lost an unrelated fight earlier #soreloser".