Chief: Develop relationships to help police

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 29, 2005

The best thing residents of Suffolk can do to help the police department is to develop relationships with their neighbors, Suffolk Police Chief William Freeman said Thursday.

Freeman was the featured speaker at Thursday’s meeting of the Suffolk Rotary Club at which he discussed how the police department is coping with the city’s rapid growth.

Freeman said in the wake of 9-11, much of the law enforcement focus has been on &uot;Homeland Security.&uot;

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To him, he said, homeland security means knowing the people in your neighborhood and what is going on.

He said that can be accomplished through clubs like the Rotary, participation in civic leagues, or even just speaking to your neighbors.

&uot;Talk to your neighbors,&uot; he said.

&uot;Even if they don’t talk to you that tells you something about them.&uot;

This, Freeman added, will allow officers to get to know the areas they patrol better and the people who live there. Freeman, who heads up a police department with more than 200 police and civilian employees, noted that Suffolk has been divided into 18 zones for patrol purposes. Prior to 2001, there were just six.

&uot;It has given officers the opportunity to get to know people in their zone,&uot; he said of the smaller areas, noting that processes are constantly being evaluated. &uot;Our city is changing so fast we have to look at how we are serving the public.&uot;

Shortly after taking the reins of the 200-employee police department in July 2001, the attacks of 9-11 changed the law enforcement landscape to situation in which nobody had a frame of reference.

He lost some experienced officers who were in the reserves and had to replace them with young rookies. He said that while young officers are typically enthusiastic, they need to be mentored by the more experienced officers and it normally takes five to seven years &uot;to get your investment back.&uot;

There are currently 11 vacancies on the Suffolk police force.

Other challenges with which Suffolk police have to deal include the increasing number of subdivisions, which is putting a stress on response times. He said a lot of police time is taken up with domestic assaults, which seem to be on the rise. He said it typically takes two officers up to two hours to deal with each incident.

There’s been a lot of media focus in Virginia on gang activity and Rep. J. Randy Forbes recently introduced anti-gang legislation in congress.

While conceding there are young people in Suffolk who travel in groups, Freeman said he did not like to use the term &uot;gangs.&uot; Instead, he said he has a folder marked &uot;rowdy people.&uot;

&uot;When you attach the name ‘gang’ to it I think you are creating problems,&uot; he said, noting that it is up to parents and other responsible adults to identify problem youngsters and intervene before they fall into a gang lifestyle.