Few things are a bigger waste of police resources than responding to the same type of call at the same location time and time again.
Just ask Medford police Officer Michael Todd, who handled his fair share of criminal calls at North Ivy Street Park before the department decided enough was enough.
"It was a daily occurrence that we were called out there because people were seeing drug dealing and fights going on," Todd said. "After a while you really need to do something about it to fix the problem permanently."
Todd and other officers began aggressively patrolling the area surrounding the park and reaching out to neighbors to learn exactly what the major problems were.
After several arrests and a lot of communication, life around the park improved. It's a prime example of the department's problem-solving strategy the police brass has called "beat projects."
Beat projects have been a staple of the Medford Police Department for close to 10 years. The concept has its origins in the New York City Police Department's COMSTAT system, drafted in the mid-1990s when the city was plagued by violent crime.
COMSTAT called for precincts to collect a wide-ranging set of statistics, everything from murders to graffiti reports, that was inspected for patterns. When NYPD learned that certain areas saw spikes in robberies in specific areas during a particular time of day, it made sure to post officers in that area full time to investigate. Pretty soon, crime in that neighborhood fell.
In Medford, the department springs into action when there are five or more calls for service at a specific location within a 30-day period.
"The goal is to identify problem areas that are affecting livability for residents," Medford police Chief Randy Schoen said. "Once we are made aware of such an area, we assign a patrol officer there to take care of the problem so we don't have to keep going back."
The department has mapped the city into seven patrol beats with each one served by seven to eight officers. Each officer then either generates or is assigned a beat project that he or she must see to conclusion. The officer is asked to submit progress reports and explain how the problem is being handled.
In a sense, each officer becomes the "de facto" police chief of the beat.
"The results of these beat projects factor into our people's performance evaluations and promotions," Deputy Chief Tim George said.
Beat projects vary greatly in size and scope, Schoen said.
"Sometimes the problem is pretty simple," Schoen said. "It can be a single party house that's causing issues or a house where neighbors suspect drug sales are occurring."
Some officers are assigned beat projects involving a normally quiet street in which neighbors have reported an increase in speeding cars over the course of a month.
Other beat projects span the entire city and can involve several officers, such as the department's dedication to ensuring Medford's sex offenders are in compliance with the state registration system.
Officer Tom Sweeney has made it his mission to drop in on convicted sex offenders throughout the city who have failed to register with the state. He finds time between service calls to fulfill his beat project.
The department generates about 50 beat projects a year, Schoen said.
Some of these projects are brought to police attention by concerned citizens. The department's Operation CARE, in which officers flood a neighborhood and knock on doors to ask residents about livability issues, has generated beat projects, Schoen said.
"When we've gone into these neighborhoods we always learn something new," George said. "Sometimes it takes getting out of your two tons of steel and walking through neighborhoods. We expect our officers to get to know the people and places in their beats. You need to know everything, the garbage man, the cable guy, when businesses are open and closed."
Medford Community Service Officer Todd Sales found himself dealing with rival street gangs last summer in a northeast neighborhood. Sales was dispatched to the area by Lt. Tim Doney and CSO Howard Pendleton after neighbors complained of a rash of gang graffiti splashed across walls and sidewalks.
Sales collected a painting crew of troubled juveniles and swarmed the area of Howard Street and Bayberry Drive to cover the graffiti. The project won praise from residents, including Robin Harvey.
"We felt that we were losing our power when the gangs came in," Harvey said. "But when they came out to cover the graffiti we felt like we re-emerged to reclaim the neighborhood."
Sales said the project was good for the neighborhood and the kids who painted over the graffiti.
"Some of the kids on the crew had a part in gang tagging," Sales said. "After working on covering it, I think some of them realized they were in the wrong. It seemed to make an impression on some of them."
The northeast beat project spawned a neighborhood watch program by a collection of neighbors who don't want to see Howard Street revert to its old ways.
"We feel like it's our neighborhood again," Harvey said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.