October 23, 2015 Norwalk, Iowa Under the command of Chief Greg Staples the Norwalk Police Department has returned to perhaps the best method of community policing that there is. The De Moines Register has done a fine job of encapsulating the initiative which has been coined “The Walk About Project” by the Department where officers have taken to the Streets and are discovering unexpected things.
While Greg Staples and officer Greg Hepperly have started walking foot patrols on the street just looking for residents to engage in normal discussions with Chief Staples notes the many reasons that officers are returning to the streets on foot.
“There are people out there who know what’s going on in the community and are happy to talk to you about it, but they’re not going to call you,” Staples said. “You’ve got to go find it.”
The Chief makes a very valid point, while on a beat patrol people that Officers come in contact with will in passing comment on issues that they would not normally call the Police for because they do not think it is important enough to warrant a call to the station. Also often people feel disconnected from the Police, however if they see an Officer, especially regularly, know that Officer by name and accept them as a member of their community then they will be more willing to confide in that person.
Certainly it is easier to mention something in passing during a casual conversation to an Officer than it is picking up a phone or flagging down a Passing Police car should you see one. Even approaching an officer or interrupting two officers when they are having a meal can seem somewhat intrusive if a citizen sees them having a meal break somewhere and may hold back some information that may be mundane to the citizen but important o the Officer.
Chief Staples also conveyed to The De Moines Register that keeping people happy and familiar with their police departments makes it easy to avoid the angst against police departments, which has played out on national television. With communities facing uprisings over police tactics, rogue officers and policing in general, Staples said it’s very important the Norwalk community doesn’t believe his officers are like that.
“Because we wear a uniform and a badge it’s easy to associate us with other areas,” Staples said. “But there’s been no Ferguson effect in Norawalk for a number of reasons. One is because we don’t police that way.”
The Chief believes that if the people of Norwalk do not like how their area is being Policed they will voice their concerns and he seems more than willing to listen and make appropriate changes to accommodate the people the Department serves and protects.
Officer Hepperly also made some observations which were: “In the media, you basically see a lot of negative stuff,” Hepperly said. “But out there we get a lot of feedback. People tell us they see us a lot, that they support us.”
Also there was a tactical and learning position that was taken from his time walking the streets that should be a lesson for Officers to come away with as well.
In his car, Hepperly said, he’s looking for things that are out of place, such as open windows or garage doors. But when he’s on foot, he can look for smaller things like tools being left out, smaller items that could possibly be stolen or used as weapons against somebody. Staples said officers can also take note of who has dogs, who has fences, how tall they are and where they connect.
“You don’t see that driving 25-miles-per-hour down the road,” Staples said. “Why is that important? Well, if I’m chasing a bad guy and I know three houses down there’s a six-foot privacy fence, chances are he didn’t go that way.”
Another aspect to “walking a beat” is knowing who does and does not belong. Officers tend to notice when things and people are out of place after repeatedly passing by and through them. When walking through and talking with residents Officers can get a better understanding of business owners, hours of operation, neighborhoods and even events. When something is amiss it becomes more noticeable even when you are on regular patrol in a vehicle after having walked it enough.
Not mentioned in the article was the fact that Norwalk also has a very good program yet that involves kids in a school program called D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). This gives kids the opportunity to learn solid strategies for staying away from drugs and dealing with peer pressure. It also gives the kids a chance to familiarize themselves with Officers in a way that is much more real than the stereotypical ideas that they get from the media that can be so negative.
While the municipality of Norwalk is small and this approach is not feasible in every area it can certainly be implemented in many areas in Departments across the nation. Even if it is not part of your Departments policy or protocols I suggest you get out of the car a little more often and stretch your legs. Turn on your handset and take a walk as you meet with some residents or business owners.
Remember, Sheepdogs are only feared by the sheep because they look like wolves from a distance.
Photo Credit: Norwalk PD Twitter