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Mayor, police chief talk public safety with media

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent

 

May 30, 2014: Toledo’s mayor and police chief talked about the city’s latest crime-fighting efforts and the public perception of the city as a crime-ridden community during a Friday morning media session at the downtown branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

 

In what could be termed a unique combination of data-driven crime-fighting and old-fashioned, beat-based, neighborhood policing, the mayor and police department administrators both emphasized the need to establish trust and get help from citizens.

 

“Law enforcement is not the only answer. It has to be people and police working together,” said Mayor D. Michael Collins, who emphasized his two most important priorities are the safety and condition of Toledo’s neighborhoods.

 

68 cadets recently graduated the police academy and took to the streets with their training officers. Once they can go it alone, the mayor stated the police department would focus on what he called “beat integrity.” Under the plan, a police officer would be assigned with a building inspector or code enforcement inspector working an assigned sector of the city. Such an effort, he said, “would clean up the city block-by-block.”

 

Mayor Collins told the audience that the reopening of the Northwest District police station already is paying dividends. The department’s traffic and special victims units have relocated to the facility. Two of the officers assigned to that area are walking the Sylvania Ave. corridor, introducing themselves to business owners and speaking with students on their way to and from Start High School. Police bike patrols will travel through that area this summer.

 

“I think that’s the true test of modern policing—when neighbors know that there are officers available—and there’s camaraderie and a trust,” said the mayor. “That trust is really important. That’s what we have to rebuild in Toledo is that trust.”

 

“They’re taking minor complaints. They’re dealing with issues such as loitering. They’re passing along information to vice-narcotics and the gang unit,” said Police Chief William Moton. “So far it seems to be well-received. That’s coming along because they’re building a relationship with the community.”

 

Chief Moton stated the police department has expanded its number of community service officers from three to nine. The effort is part of the mayor’s “Tidy Town” initiative.

 

“We’re starting to work with other departments and dealing with the blight,” he said. “We’re taking criminal complaints and teaming up with other departments in the city and working with them.”

 

One of those community services officers is Officer Dana Slay, a 20-year veteran who now works a sector that encompasses the Alexis-Lewis-Jackman Road area. Officer Slay spoke of a recent success with Tidy Towns, along Upton Ave. between Bancroft and Dorr, where trees were recently cleared to make the homes and street more visible and safer in response to citizen input.

 

“Let us know as Blockwatch what you need. If you’ve got dumping in an alley or overgrown trees, let us know,” she encouraged. “Help us to clean that out, so that when crime does occur in your neighborhood, you can see it and therefore, report it. We don’t know unless you tell us.”

 

Officer Slay emphasized there are ways people can report crimes without jeopardizing their personal safety or becoming a victim themselves. Not only can people call Crimestoppers at 419-255-1111 or 911 and remain anonymous, they can now pass along information through the department’s Facebook page and other social media.

 

“A lot of people don’t go to Blockwatch until something happens—and then they’re running in and they have so much to say. But where were you at a year ago, two years ago?” she questioned. “We need your input. Open your eyes. Open your ears. Blockwatch is everybody’s business, even if it doesn’t involve you.”

 

The police chief spoke of the continued development of “data-driven intelligence” where crime analysts can provide a “prediction of when the next crimes will take place.” That information is passed along to field commanders who can place officers accordingly. The police department also is in the second and final phase of placing crime cameras across the city, which will eventually number approximately 150.

 

“We can respond much quicker,” he said. “This is a step-by-step process. We want to do it as quickly as possible, but we want to make sure what we’re doing is sound.”

 

But that effort continues to build, mindful of its ability to become interactive with Toledo residents. To that end, the police department recently released an interactive crime mapping tool at the website at:  crimemap.toledo.oh.gov  

 

Capt. Mike Troendle, who heads the department’s strategic response bureau, gave a brief demonstration. The crime mapping tool is based on software the department already was using, allowing individual officers to “drill down into their beats” and identify crime “hot spots,” he explained. By being able to pinpoint where crime is occurring in such a manner, manpower can be increased in those neighborhoods and “predict” where and when similar events will happen.

 

“This allows you to see what’s happening in your neighborhood and then to help us by providing information on the crime you’re seeing,” said Capt. Troendle, who showed a feature that allows citizens to provide tips to police directly through the mapping tool.

 

One example he used was a burglary that may have occurred down the street, which prompts a homeowner to recall a strange car in the neighborhood around the same time. That person could provide a license plate number anonymously through a web tip, “which gives us a critical piece of information,” he said.

 

During the demonstration, one such crime “hot spot” that was identified is the Green Belt Place Apartments, just north of downtown Toledo.

 

Citizens can track crimes within a half-mile radius of a given address—even going back as far as three months to see, in general, what has been occurring. That raises the general awareness of home and business owners, as well as to keep a closer eye on the situation. The mapping tool allows the user to differentiate between violent and property crimes.

 

The user also can sign up for email alerts when a crime occurs in their neighborhood. The system updates three times each day: 6 a.m., 2 p.m., and 10 p.m., which coincides with police shift changes. Capt. Troendle stated citizens have requested an app for smartphones and other mobile devices, which is being developed for future release.

 

During a question-and-answer period, police administrators explained that they are expanding the use of the Real Time Crime Center, where four daytime shift officers began monitoring the city’s crime cameras. Now civilian analysts are being hired to work within the center on other shifts, a move which police say has helped real-time response.

 

The open discussion was labeled “Building Safer Communities” and was sponsored by the Toledo Press Club. Members of the public were invited to attend. Some in the audience praised the police for being more open to partnering with the public, especially at the more than 2,700 Lucas Metropolitan Housing Agency (LMHA) sites that span the city. But one young man in the audience questioned the need for so many crime cameras, particularly the ones being deployed in what he labeled “nicer areas.”

 

“Are we being protected or are we being stalked?” asked the young man, protesting that his Fourth Amendment rights were being violated.

 

The particular camera in question is one that was recently installed near Heatherdowns Blvd. and Key St. Police administrators explained that car break-ins are a common problem in apartment complexes in that area, so the camera is in place to catch those responsible and deter future thefts.

 

“We’re responsible for every part of Toledo, not just the central city or not just where people think are the most crime-ridden areas,” said Capt. Troendle. “Every part of this city deserves protection.”

 

Copyright © 1989 to 2014 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 06/03/14 16:50:42 -0700.

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