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Hillsborough deputies will be walking and talking with public under new policing effort

A promotional video from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office shows how the agency hopes its new community policing initiative will work. [Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office]
A promotional video from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office shows how the agency hopes its new community policing initiative will work. [Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office]
Published Jun. 6, 2019

TAMPA — Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies have a new mandate: Get out of your patrol car and talk to the people you serve and protect.

Under a new community policing initiative called "Walk It Like I Talk It," uniformed patrol deputies are now required to park their cruisers and spend an hour at least one day a week walking neighborhoods and talking to citizens in their respective districts.

"While the patrol vehicle is a very effective resource, many perceive it as a barrier for direct communication and we want to change that," Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a news conference Thursday announcing the initiative. "We already patrol neighborhoods, apartment complexes, so why not walk those same areas and get to know our community and allow our citizens an opportunity to get to know their Sheriff's Office?"

The initiative is modeled after a similar one called "Park, Walk and Talk," launched by the St. Petersburg Police Department under Chief Anthony Holloway shortly after he took the helm in 2014. Chronister said he spoke with Holloway and asked staff to tailor a program that would work for Hillsborough.

RELATED: Park, Walk and Talk is St. Petersburg police chief's signature program. Is it working?

Deputies will log in their walking time with a new activity code created for the initiative, Chronister said. Hillsborough deputies are encouraged to select their walking areas, in part, on where crime has recently occurred or where residents have specific concerns. The Sheriff's Office patrols a vast jurisdiction — including urban areas around Tampa, suburbs and farmlands in eastern and southern parts of the county — but the requirements are the same for deputies no matter where they patrol.

"The initiative remains the same if there's one ranch, one farm landowner," Chronister said. "Get out, go knock on the door and get to know these individuals and build these relationships."

The sheriff said he expects the initiative will help deputies create bonds with kids.

"Our deputies I think will get to know some of the children that are risk and maybe be able to influence their lives," he said.

As part of the St. Petersburg program, patrol officers log how many times they get out of their cars to interact with residents, aside from work on crime or suspicious activity. A 2017 review of police data by the Tampa Bay Times showed they did that 58,000 times in three years, though records don't show how long they walked or how many conversations they had.

Department statistics showed that tips to St. Petersburg police increased after the program launched while there was a drop in complaints made against officers and investigated by the department's Office of Professional Standards.

Holloway has acknowledged it's difficult to say how much credit the program should get for the change, but in an interview Thursday, he said the positive trends are continuing and he believes more than ever that his department's approach to community policing is paying off.

"It's really helping us bridge that gap," Holloway said.

Two expansions of the original program have boosted the results, he said. Since 2016, the department has partnered with the Tampa Bay Rays for its Park, Walk and Cheer program to reward residents who do good deeds with a voucher for free game tickets. And in the Park, Walk and Joy initiative, officers who encounter needy families as the holidays approach submit their names to a list to be considered for toys and food. The items are paid for with an annual donation.

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In a brief promotional video debuted at Thursday's news conference, Hillsborough deputies are seen walking and shaking hands as a hip-hop beat thrums in the background. In a voice-over narration, Chronister urges residents to engage with deputies when they see them on foot.

"Because behind every badge," Chronister said, "there's a father, a mother, a son or a daughter committed to building community relations."

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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