Like a kid ordering a new flavor of ice cream, Chattanooga police tried something new this weekend.
Chief Fred Fletcher sent a team of officers -- working overtime -- out to patrol just a few blocks. The six-person team was deployed to a hotspot, a neighborhood where data showed aggravated assaults and burglaries were most likely to occur.
Officers were told to leave their cars in visible locations and take to the streets on bikes. The intent was for the team to focus first on building relationships with the community, and then almost incidentally deter crime with their presence.
This is the kind of policing that Fletcher promised when he came to Chattanooga. The effort combined the tried and true -- data analysis, visibility and boots on the street -- with tweaks like calling community leaders ahead of time to produce a patrol with a new feel and a new mission.
The weekend was more about creating positive interactions than slapping on handcuffs.
Whether the idea worked is hard to say.
Stormy weather kept the extra officers in their cars more than on their bikes, so that part of the weekend didn't go as planned. But there were no shootings in the city on Saturday and Sunday. And the extra officers did patrol in their cars and on bikes when they could.
"It seemed to be a productive night," Assistant Chief Eric Tucker said.
The real test will be a year or 18 months from now, Fletcher said.
"If you talk to people a year down the road if they feel they have a connection with the department, then we have succeeded in what we're trying to do," he said. "And what we're trying to do is to meet the community's expectations of us. They told us they want us to be more available, more approachable, and have better relationships."
So far, most neighborhoods have welcomed the additional police presence. East Lake Neighborhood Association leader Linda Richards said police visibility is a powerful deterrent.
"People need to know they're there," she said. "As long as they're visible, I think it will make a difference. I don't know how much, but I think it will make a difference."
The weekend's effort started well before the officers actually hit the streets, Fletcher said. First, the department's crime analysis unit figured out where aggravated assaults and burglaries were most likely to occur -- narrowing it down to half-mile hotspots in six-hour windows.
The analysts named the area between Main Street and Bailey Avenue, Holtzclaw and Dodson as the target area this weekend. The unit works about two weeks in advance, although they're developing new methods to provide more immediate data.
Once the target area was identified, Fletcher and Assistant Chief Tracy Arnold called about a dozen community and faith leaders and explained the plan.
"We told them to expect to see us, know the police will be out, know they're not taking a zero-tolerance approach, and tell your neighbors and friends to engage them, and help [the officers] get to know your community," Fletcher said.
And while the effort happened during a weekend this time, extra officers will be deployed as needed going forward, even on weekdays, Fletcher said. He hopes the data's very specific parameters will increase the overtime team's effectiveness.
He added that the weekend's effort was just the beginning.
"These are long-term solutions," he said.
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