Norwich police see impact of foot patrols on crime

Norwich — The number of arrests and reported crimes in the city dipped slightly last year, the first full year since the establishment of the city's community policing unit.

Robberies, assaults and rapes were down while burglaries and larcenies increased from 2012. The number of rapes dropped 38 percent, from 18 in 2012 to 11 in 1013, even as the new, broader definition of rape has led to increases elsewhere.

The only homicide of the year occurred on May 2, 2013: the death of a 13-month-old girl whose mother's boyfriend, Michael A. Rios, was charged with first-degree manslaughter for physical abuse that led to her death. His case is pending.

Norwich Police Chief Louis J. Fusaro said the numbers don't tell the entire story about how well the community policing unit has served to strengthen neighborhood bonds and allowed residents and visitors a sense of safety.

In the past several budgets, Norwich has managed to add numbers to its police force thanks to support from the City Council and city manager and federal grants. The department also used grant money to set up surveillance cameras in several parts of the city, which police believe act as a deterrent and may help solve crimes.

The department has an authorized strength of 98 sworn officers with about 89 slots filled.

The community policing program started in late 2012 with three two-man patrols on the evening shift in Greeneville, Taftville and downtown. Community policing numbers were further bolstered in March with the addition of four more officers.

The unit has 10 officers in total, with seven-day evening coverage, and two-man teams working four days a week during the day. The officers are in addition to regular patrols and usually on bikes in the summer months.

"I think that extra presence in some of the neighborhoods that need a little extra work is showing progress overall," Fusaro said. "Things are not 100 percent, but it's improvement even beyond the numbers. One of the things is reducing fear of crime. It's a quality-of-life issue when people don't feel comfortable. Not only are we looking to reduce crime, we're looking to enhance those neighborhoods in any way we can."

Sgt. Peter Camp, the community policing unit supervisor, said residents and business owners appreciate the increased visibility, especially in the summer months with kids out of school and more outside activity in general. The unit is participating in crime watch meetings in Taftville and Greeneville and in community forums with groups like the Greeneville Neighborhood Revitalization Committee.

"We're building relationships and problem-solving. We can only problem-solve if we have a relationship with neighborhoods," Camp said.

Camp, an 18-year-veteran of the force, said he is a by-product of the 1990s push for more officers on the streets under President Bill Clinton. Camp was hired as part of a community block grant at a time when it was more common for departments to have bicycle and foot patrols. The subsequent decade, however, saw police budgets shrink and "we were forced back into our cruisers," Camp said.

"Now we're seeing that transform again and realizing community policing is walking, riding bikes, getting out of the cars and talking to people. I think we're changing perceptions of some neighborhoods," he said.

g.smith@theday.com

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