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Police, deputies hoofing it for downtown patrols

[12/30/03]Downtown business owners said they have noticed and welcome the resumption of foot patrols by police since this year’s holiday shopping season began.

Joe Gerache Jr. of Corner Drug Store and Karen Ruggles of The Cinnamon Tree said they’ve seen officers walking in the area since late November.

“Last year I don’t remember them being through,” Gerache said, adding he assumed the new activity came with the newly re-bricked and renovated Washington Street shopping area.

The construction took about eight months and $2.6 million. Complete by late September, the new paving, landscaping and lighting were officially unveiled in November. They are part of a continuing program to revitalize the area, add shops and enhance customer traffic for those already in the area.

“They stick their head in the door and speak,” Gerache said of police officers who have checked in “a couple of times a week” during December. Usually the check-ins come from one officer at a time, and not always the same officer, he said.

Police Chief Tommy Moffett said no officers have been assigned specifically to foot-patrol duty, but that the practice can be an important part of the way he has asked officers to patrol the city.

“We’ve been encouraging them to be out of the car,” Moffett said. Officers are urged to park and walk sometimes, “especially in areas with parking problems,” he added. There have been no reports of thefts or other incidents requiring a visible police presence in the area.

Moffett said it’s a matter of officers knowing the public they serve. “Sometimes that’s the only way you can keep a hand on the pulse of what’s going on, before something bad happens,” he said.

Sheriff’s deputies have been participating in foot-patrols for special events downtown for years, Sheriff Martin Pace said.

“It originally began with requests from downtown merchants to assist with visibility down there,” Pace said. Since then, whether requested or not, Pace assigns deputies to patrol downtown by foot during organized after-hours business nights such as “Hit the Bricks,” he said.

At special events downtown, deputies will often be paired with police officers for foot-patrol, Pace added.

Ruggles, whose gift shop is on the opposite side of Washington Street and several blocks south, said she saw VPD officers on regular foot-patrols starting about late November. Since then, an officer has walked through the store about once a week, she said.

“I think it’s great,” Ruggles said, adding that she thinks the walk-throughs may have more of an effect on the store’s customers than on its employees.

“Since the street’s been redone, a lot of customers feel safer because of the lighting,” she said of the new streetlights on Washington Street.

“I’d like to have them,” Gerache said of the VPD’s foot patrols. “If they would keep it up, that’d be great.”