Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Gaithersburg police to put officers on beat system

Plan could launch with two beats in September

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In an effort to bolster relationships with residents and improve emergency response times, Gaithersburg police plan to institute its first beat system in the fall.

The city’s 48 officers will be divided into two beats, divided by Interstate-270, said Police Chief John King.

Currently, officers are not assigned to a specific area. Instead they focus on certain areas such as the Olde Towne business district depending on crime trends, King said last week.

His plan divides the city into two sections with the western beat called ‘‘Seneca” and the eastern beat called ‘‘Frederick.” About 60 percent of the officers will be assigned to the Frederick beat, while 40 percent will be assigned to the Seneca beat, King said of the tentative plan.

More beats could be instituted as needed, or as more officers are hired, King said.

‘‘This just takes us to the next level,” he said. ‘‘Even with just the city being a geographical boundary, one could interpret that was the beat. This narrows that focus a little more and provides a little more realistic geographic responsibility for the officers to be accountable for certain areas.”

The more restrictive patrol area should allow officers a greater opportunity to meet with residents, and will decrease emergency response time, King said.

In 2006, city officers responded to priority calls in an average of 2.55 minutes, while non-priority calls were responded to in an average of 5.51 minutes, according to city police data.

In 2006, city officers responded to 49 percent of the 11,623 calls for service in the Gaithersburg area, according to city police data.

Olde Towne resident and Police Advisory Committee member Clark Day said last week that violent crimes are escalating in his neighborhood, and is optimistic that the beat system could make a positive impact.

‘‘I think it’ll make police more responsive,” he said. ‘‘I think it’ll be a better relationship established with the communities.”

The plan won’t interfere with the city’s relationship of shared jurisdiction with the Montgomery County Police 6th District, he said.

County police handle homicides, rapes and other ‘‘specialized” major crimes, said Gaithersburg police spokesman Sgt. Rudy Wagner.

The beat system has long been discussed as a means to bolster the city’s crime prevention efforts as the population grows, though former Police Chief Mary Ann Viverette had said the 48-person department would need 60 officers to meet the demand of the beat system.

King said this won’t be an issue because the proposed plan isn’t very extensive.

‘‘We will need more once we grow, but we can start now and I think there’s a value in starting and learning some lessons to grow toward,” he said.

King anticipates a firm plan ready by September.

Many police departments utilize similar plans, including in Rockville and Frederick, where police officials say they have had beat systems for many years.

‘‘It’s extremely effective,” said Lt. Shawn Martyak of the Frederick City Police Department. ‘‘It certainly enhances response time to priority calls, it aids dispatchers in knowing what units are to respond to the area.”

The department’s 146 officers patrol five beats. Frederick does not share jurisdiction with Frederick County police, as does Gaithersburg and Rockville.

The 54 officers employed by Rockville City Police patrol three beats.

‘‘A structured beat provides ownership to officers for specific areas of patrol,” Rockville Police Chief Terrance N. Treschuk said Thursday. ‘‘It helps keep officers spread as equally as possible through the community.”

Have your say

To comment on the Gaithersburg police proposed beat system call 301-258-6400.