Checking to make sure the homes of UW-Eau Claire students away on break are secure and educating motorists about pedestrian safety are two examples of the Eau Claire Police Department’s proactive problem-solving.
And a change in the schedules of the men and women on patrol is helping the department do more of that, Chief Gerald Staniszewski said.
Eau Claire patrol officers are required to work 2,007½ hours each year, Deputy Chief Chad Hoyord said. A change in their schedules with officers working 10½-hour shifts, four days on and four days off, allows each officer 91¼ hours each year to work on efforts to solve problems — rather than react to them — in the districts and neighborhoods they patrol.
“During those hours, we isolate (certain officers) from calls for service, so they can work on projects,” Staniszewski said.
This summer two officers who normally work in the evening came in during the day to work a special detail highlighting pedestrian safety as other regularly scheduled officers handled calls citywide.
“In my years here, we’ve been seeing an increase in pedestrian traffic downtown,” said Lt. Tim Golden, explaining the reason for the effort. In addition, the department had gotten complaints from pedestrians who had trouble crossing the street at various locations.
“It’s really something new, and it’s really been effective,” Staniszewski said of the initiative, in its second year.
“Everyone recognizes the value in it,” he added, noting the department’s command staff worked with officer representatives to develop the new policing model, which increases minimum staffing on the street by one officer and places a priority on proactive crime-prevention strategies and community partnerships.
“Collaboration (with other departments and organizations) is key,” Staniszewski said. “We can’t do it alone.”
For example, the Police Department partnered with the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate to create the House Watch program. Spikes in residential burglaries during school breaks was the driving factor behind the effort, said police Lt. Greg Weber, who oversees the program, in an earlier interview.
Seeing officers checking homes can help deter would-be burglars and vandals, said Bridget Coit, one of the Police Department’s public information officers, in November. If a residence is broken into or vandalized, police will have a better idea of when a crime has occurred by having officers regularly check students’ homes, which can help solvability.
The Police Department also has partnered with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department and UW-Eau Claire for Pack It Up, Pass It On, a spring move-out event, where students can donate gently used clothing, furniture and other items at no cost and drop off items that are in poor condition, like broken electronics or old mattresses, for a nominal fee.
“You were seeing just a ton of garbage when students moved out,” said Hoyord, noting officers help educate students by going door to door with information about the effort. “This was a more effective way of doing things.”
That is the goal of problem-oriented policing — identifying the root cause of a problem and finding ways to address it, Staniszewski said.
One of the ways the department is doing that is by having officers attend neighborhood association meetings, he said.
“These are the people who live there and know what the issues are,” said Hoyord, who would like to see more neighborhood associations form in the city.
Kathleen Mitchell, a member of the Eau Claire City Council, attends association meetings in four neighborhoods on occasion and likes seeing officers there.
“I think it’s an incredible benefit for the community,” she said. “The people there get to know the officers, and the officers answer questions, and more importantly, they can listen to the neighborhood association talk about issues in the neighborhood.”
For 2018, the Patrol Division plans to focus proactive project time on homelessness, mental heal and methamphetamine.
“These three things are driving our calls for service and affecting quality of life,” Hoyord said.
Proactive policing won’t eliminate crime and other calls for service, like traffic crashes, but “it can surely influence it,” Staniszewski said. “That’s why we made time for it.”
“I think this is a very modern approach to policing, a very professional approach to policing,” said Mitchell, a former longtime member of the city’s Police and Fire Commission. “I think our Police Department has an excellent reputation in the community, and I think (this effort) is only going to enhance that.”
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