September 24, 2008
Foot patrols cut down on crime in South End
City police have found success with a program funded by state grants since 2005
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
City police officer Joe Peters talks with Deb Williams of Stewart Place in Cortland while on foot patrol Saturday. Police have patrolled the city’s South End three times a week since 2005.
Even on a quiet night, officer Joseph Peters still finds plenty to do on foot patrol with the city police.
Peters, 26, has been a city police officer since 2005 and grew up in Cortland. Making his rounds on south Main Street and the surrounding neighborhood, he greeted everyone he saw on his route.
As he walked the beat on a recent Saturday night, Peters was careful to show people that a police presence does not always mean trouble.
For city police, having an officer in the neighborhood has meant just the opposite — South End crime has declined.
“We’re just out here to help,” Peters said. “You try and build a rapport with people and make good impressions.”
An officer patrols the South End of the city in four-hour blocks, rotating three days a week, said city police Lt. Jon Gesin.
The patrol began in 2005 and is funded through state grants that specialize in crime prevention programs.
This year from May through September, police have made 33 arrests in the South End, compared to 79 made in 2005 for those months.
Three arrests were made last month on the detail, all violations for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Gesin said the majority of calls before the program began were for quality of life issues, such as disorderly conduct, drinking in public, loud noise and littering.
With the municipal improvements along south Main Street sidewalks, a project to rehabilitate several South End apartments and the police presence there, Gesin said those types of calls have decreased.
“This has proven to work,” he said. “Our calls for service have gone down a lot because of it.”
Gesin said all dispatch calls to the South End in 2005, from May to September, totaled 212. For those months this year, there were 194 calls.
He added the street detail was a factor, but the figures account for all police activity in the area.
Gesin said 11 felony drug arrests were made in 2005 after foot patrol was implemented, largely because of residential input.
Peters said responding to incidents is not just about making an arrest — it’s finding the best solution possible.
“We have a wide range of opportunities for responding to something,” he said. “We could make an arrest, or not, as long as it gets the point across.”
“We’re cops, friends, counselors, whatever we need to be,” Peters added.
Cecile Scott, assistant director of the Cortland Youth Bureau, said the patrol initiative began with the development of the East End Community Center.
“The intent was to have a police outreach location at the community center,” she said. “But residents of the South End voiced their safety concerns to city officials. We quickly realized it was best to put an officer on the streets.”
The Youth Bureau submitted applications for two state grants to help not just the community center, but to help fund the police presence on the street.
Downtown foot patrols and those on the college hill are city funded, Gesin said.
Each year, the grants provide about $25,000 to fund the community center, $5,000 to $9,000 of which is used for the police to send an officer on the street.
Gesin said with the progress that has been made so far, the main goal is to make sure the patrol is maintained. The grant money must be applied for each year.
Peters said he likes the fact that he can help people, even for small problems such as a locked car door.
Over the course of an evening’s patrol, a noise heard down a dark alley turned out to be a local resident patching her broken window with a board. A kitten that escaped through a window and was stuck on a roof was spotted and retrieved by her owners.
“Walking the beat offers a chance to see and hear things officers in patrol cars might not notice,” Peters said.
Enforcement is a major factor in patrolling on foot.
“There is a no-tolerance policy with this detail,” Peters said. “It differs from riding in a patrol car since you’re able to notice more of what is going on around you.”
No tolerance means stopping the little problems before they get any bigger, he said.
With as many as four patrol cars on the road, handling smaller incidents on foot patrol could allow cars to go places where they are in greater need, he said.
Since a nuisance party ordinance is in effect, this also means stopping off-campus college residence parties from getting out of hand.
By 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, Peters and Officer Sean Byrnes had issued two tickets for loud music at two house parties. Byrnes, in a patrol car, was nearby and was called to assist.
“This detail is great because it makes it easier to see how the neighborhoods are affected by everything,” Byrnes said.
Byrnes has been with the city police for about four years.
Whatever problems were in the South End, residents believe the police presence has made a difference.
“They have a great response time,” said Mary Ryan of south Main Street. “I feel really good to have them down here.”
Ryan and her husband, Steven, have lived in Cortland for 23 years.
Others find having officers patrolling streets on foot is a welcome addition to the neighborhood revitalization effort.
Cheryl Hepworth moved to her residence at 15 Argyle Place last week, and said she is impressed with the remodeling of the houses and sidewalks.
A Syracuse company completed an $8.2 million housing project in the South End this month that added 30 low-income apartments.
“It’s been very quiet since I moved in. I really like it here,” she said.
Gesin attributed any success to the participation of local residents and the city cleanup efforts being made in the neighborhood.
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