By Noah Jones, Staff Reporter, Richland Source, October 3, 2018
Photo: Police officers pedal the streets with their Cannondale bicycles in Mansfield.
MANSFIELD OH -- The city's downtown area is going to look more safe with the Mansfield Police Department edging its way toward a full roster of officers.
In turn, the MPD has tasked its officers to take up a new beat, on foot, around downtown.
"The chief (Ken Coontz) got a hold of the command staff and said, ‘Look, we're starting to get our numbers back up’ (81/86) and he expressed to us he really wanted us to get out in the community on foot and on bikes to do a little more personal interaction with our citizens," said Captain Shari Robertson. "This is something we believe in -- community policing. That's something we strive for at the Mansfield Police Department."
Robertson noted the point of the new beat is to be proactive instead of reactive.
"To promote that positive, public interaction," Robertson said. "Usually when we show up, it's because they called us and we are reacting to that thing, and normally that's not good a good thing for them.
"By reinstituting the walking patrols and bike patrols, it gives us the opportunity to interact with the citizens in the community -- especially in the downtown area -- which has started to explode in the past five to 10 years. This helps us interact with people living and working downtown, getting back to grassroots policing they used in the 30's through 50's. One thing we want to do is get back into the community."
The MPD walked and biked more often before the city went into financial emergency, Robertson said. Because of financial concerns and layoffs to officers in the 2000's MPD couldn't send officers out on foot.
According to the city's finance department, Mansfield's fiscal emergency dated from Aug. 19, 2010 to July 7 2014.
"We were lucky to have enough to put in cars," Robertson laughed.
Now, the city is rebuilding and MPD staff numbers are increasing.
"The chief and the assistant chief really want us out there interacting with the public where it's not an emergency situation. It's not 'oh my gosh, I need the police right now.' It's, "Hey, how are you doing, is anything going on."
Robertson said the department is hopeful citizens will be able to keep officers up to date about things in their respective neighborhoods.
"We don't live or work in those certain neighborhoods per se, so we're hoping citizens will come to us with issues," she said.
The department plans to bike in neighborhoods once staff numbers rise more. Walking patrol can be seen in the downtown area from time to time.
"Basically, our watch commanders, when they have extra manning or are over the minimum staffing, they put people out of walking patrol or on bikes."
So far, Robertson said the police have heard nothing but positive reactions from businesses.
"Actually, we've gotten some good comments back from businesses -- people I personally know have said, 'hey we really like seeing the officers walking around the downtown.' It definitely builds that community and again, that's what our goal is. We don't want to be separate. We want to be part of the community."