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Police officials gang up on crime

They came to talk about preventing crime, about changing the public's perception of police officers around the country.

They came to talk about turning citizens into satisfied customers and solving problems one neighborhood at a time.

Police officials gathered here this week agree that officers must do more than carry guns, wear badges and arrest hoodlums.

Representatives of five law-enforcement agencies began meeting Wednesday at the Tradewinds Resort hotel to discuss elements of their "community-oriented policing" programs. The federal government is giving their departments $200,000 a year to enhance community-policing programs and compile data to help spread the concept to other agencies.

President Clinton announced that St. Petersburg and Hillsborough County were among the five departments getting grants when he visited Pass-a-Grille in September.

"I think we have to understand that there's a lot of ways to do this," said Ray Galvin, project director of the International Associations of Chiefs of Police. "And we have to understand that some of them will not work for everybody."

Indeed, the five agencies are taking different approaches.

St. Petersburg has divided the city into 48 zones in which 60 officers concentrate on solving individual problems. Hillsborough County is setting up substations in rural Wimauma and just east of Tampa, assigning special deputies to work closely with the residents.

Austin, Texas, is addressing community-wide issues such as school truancy and convicted felons who return to society without being rehabilitated.

Austin chief Betsy Watson said she also hopes to prevent people from relying on officers to solve disputes. "People have got to help themselves," she said.

The other agencies _ Denver and Knoxville, Tenn. _ have their similar strategies.

What the five communities discover about community policing will result in several studies to be published by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance.

"We need models that can be suggestions to get people started," said Mary Ann Wycoff, a community-policing expert who is consulting St. Petersburg police. "Cookie-cutters would simply kill us."

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