Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Police to launch new beat patrol

Implementor says system will cut down on response times

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The Bowie Police Department plans to introduce beat coverage in the coming month, establishing further accountability in patrolling officers and a closer relationship with local communities.

The year-old department will assume the six beat divisions created by the Prince George’s County Police Department when they patrolled the city. Currently, on-duty officers patrol the entire 18-mile city during their shifts.

‘‘There is no set system now, so a car in Pointer Ridge could get a call in Old Bowie even if there is already a car in Old Bowie,” said Lt. Al Johnston, who is overseeing the beat system’s implementation. ‘‘It will definitely cut down on response times.”

Johnston is working with county officers to get the computer aided dispatch system compatible with Bowie’s officers. That way, when a call comes in, the system will automatically find the area the call is coming from and alert the officer responsible for that beat. The computer system will keep track of response times, allowing the department to monitor the time it takes each officer to respond within his or her beat.

Thirty officers currently comprise the Bowie police. With the department launching a third midnight shift in February, Johnston said there are not enough officers to fully man the six beats. In the beginning, he said, four officers and one shift supervisor will be on duty at all times. As the ranks continue to swell he expects to designate at least one officer per beat per shift.

When the department reaches its goal of 57 officers, Johnston said at least two officers should be present on each beat for each shift.

Johnston, who has worked on the design of the beat plan since October, said officers who regularly patrol one community will be able to develop a better sense of what is out of place or suspicious there.

‘‘You get used to seeing the same people in the same area too,” said officer Bennie Henderson.

Compatibility problems with the computer dispatch system prevented the department from launching beat patrol at the beginning of February, but Johnston said he hopes to have it working by Feb. 15.

E-mail Andrea Noble at anoble@gazette.net.