Reinstating a full-time police officer at Petaluma High School and getting officers back to having a closer, more personal relationship with the community are just some of the changes taking place under a new community policing plan initiated by new Police Chief, Patrick Williams.
Williams, who started in August, has been a long believer in the method of community-based policing, which he put into practice at his former Desert Hot Springs department.
Lt. Mike Cook, formerly a patrol lieutenant who was recently assigned to oversee the new initiative, said that the department is restructuring itself to expand services and better reach the community, despite no increase in budget or staffing.
"We're trying to get back to officers knowing the names of the community members they serve," said Cook, who grew up in Petaluma and can still remember when he was a child and knew all the officers in town by name.
Another change consists of breaking the city's four police areas, or beats, into 15 smaller districts and assigning patrol officers to those districts for two-year terms in an effort to better connect officers with community members and better identify crime trends. The department will also attempt to recruit 100 volunteers in 100 weeks and hold community meetings with officers every six months.
One of the primary ways the department is looking to become more involved with the community is by restoring a presence on the high school campuses in town. Three years ago, the department cut its three positions at local high schools. Dave Rose, director of student services at Petaluma City Schools, said that bringing back an officer is a welcome move.
"We're extremely excited about this," said Rose. "Having that lifeline to the police department is crucial for our students and can help curb issues before they become major problems. It is also a deterrent for the kids against negative behaviors."
Rose said that Officer John Antonio will begin a full-time post at Petaluma High School on Jan. 7, with the hope that when the city's budget rebounds, additional student resource officer positions will be added at the other campuses in Petaluma. Rose added that the chief made the decision of which campus would receive the first student resource officer.
According to Cook, placing an officer on the high school campus requires having one less officer patrolling the streets. He added that patrol officers agreed to work that much harder to cover Antonio's previous workload, in order to bring back this much-needed service.
"We've been begged to bring back this position and we feel that it's worth it to the community," said Cook. "That connection on the campuses was such a benefit that we decided we had to find a way to make it work."
Cook added that splitting an officer's time between campuses has proven ineffective in the past and said that it will be his job to find additional funding over the next year — be it from grants, donations or other funding sources — to have an officer at each of Petaluma's other high school campuses. Rose said he will also be working on securing additional funding.
The department has also divided Petaluma into 15 districts and assigned two officers to each district for two-year terms. Currently, the city is divided into four beats, with patrol officers assigned to one of the city's four quadrants on a daily basis.