CLEARWATER — Like beat cops of yesteryear, Clearwater police officers are setting out on foot to connect with residents.
On Friday, new Chief Tony Holloway unveiled his first large-scale initiative, a neighborhood policing program dubbed "Park, Walk and Talk."
The point is to get cops out of their patrol cars to make contact with people in the areas they cover.
"We want the community to know we're out there for them," he said.
Holloway, who took over as chief on Feb. 15, was himself a community police officer during his first stint with the Clearwater Police Department. He left in 2007 after 21 years to become chief in Somerville, Mass., before returning this year.
His experiences in Clearwater led him to begin a similar neighborhood policing program in Massachusetts that helped bring about a 12 percent drop in violent crimes and burglaries, he said.
The purpose, he said, is to "evaluate, educate and enforce."
Officers should be able to get a better handle on the issues facing the neighborhoods they serve, Holloway said. They'll also be teaching crime prevention strategies and performing outreach to help residents find social services they may need.
That, he said, should lead to a reduction in crime.
Officers will conduct business safety checks to look for suspicious activities, trespassing individuals or gaps in security measures, and leave safety tips for business owners
They'll also be emphasizing techniques to reduce home and vehicle burglaries.
Officers will be given weekly assignments, based on complaints, issues raised by residents and crime data.
The program will be rolled out in areas with higher crime rates, then be expanded to cover all 125 of Clearwater's neighborhoods, Holloway said.
One goal of the program is to reach out to people who may be unnecessarily leery of the police.
"We don't want them running away from the badge. We want them running to the badge," Holloway said.
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.