Delmont police patrols help to engage public, deter crime
Officer Blake Danowski stepped out of his squad car to walk along a bustling neighborhood street in Delmont as his radio crackled in the background.
He scanned Apple Hill Drive, frequently stopping to chat up dog-walkers and porch-sitters enjoying the warm Friday night.
“You just want the presence in the community,” Danowski said. “You can't deter crime without the community.”
Delmont police Chief T.J. Klobucar calls the foot patrol a public relations strategy to engage residents.
It also works as a crime deterrent, officers said.
The effort started four years ago.
In the summer, Delmont police officers drive to different neighborhoods and then walk through residential streets and the business district.
“The police and public both have responsibility to make the community safe and reduce crime,” said Todd Miller, chairman of the community policing committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
“The main precepts are partnerships and problem solving,” Miller said. “Foot patrol by itself isn't considered community policing, but when you consider that agency is out, parking their cars and walking, they're getting to know people and building trust. As they meet their citizens, that creates a relationship that can provide information to solve crime.”
The philosophy of community policing can be traced back to London in 1829. It gained traction in the United States during the 1980s when a police chief in Houston called on officers to engage the community, Miller said.
Community policing fell by the wayside after 9/11, when law enforcement shifted its focus to terrorism, he said.
“The problem is, you can't have homeland security without hometown security,” Miller said. “Many citizens recognize strange behavior, especially in the Boston bombings, and they'll share that with the local police because that's who they know.”
He called the initiative “proactive” and said officers likely catch incidents they wouldn't, had they stayed in a car.
That was the case when Danowski walked through another Delmont neighborhood. He spotted a woman in a parked car on the street with the windows rolled down, music buzzing.
“That looks a little suspicious,” he said.
Danowski walked up to the passenger side window, surprising the driver, to check it out.
The woman explained she was waiting for a friend to get home from work. Danowski asked her a few questions and moved on when he decided she was not a threat.
Each street he walks, he stays conscious of the distance back to his squad car. The department is small, and if the other officer on mobile patrol needs backup, Danowski must hustle back to the car.
It's not a problem for the young officer, who spent almost six years serving in the Marine Corps in Turkey, Peru and Israel. Still, he's aware — keeping an eye on the street and an ear on the radio.
Most calls in the borough are responded to in fewer than three minutes, he said.
At the end of a cul-de-sac, Danowski spotted a woman holding her infant daughter while carefully watching her son doodle with chalk on the sidewalk. He walked over to shake her hand and introduce himself.
“It means a great deal to us,” Amanda Bauer said, holding her 3-month-old daughter, Evi. “It's a comfort seeing them at night.”
Another neighbor stopped Danowski to chat about a downed tree. Most drivers waved as he continued walking the streets.
“They walk by to check and make sure your door is locked,” said Heather Caldwell, who owns a massage therapy business in addition to her home in the borough. “It makes me feel secure knowing they keep an eye on my business and where I live.”
Danowski continued patrolling, passing through the parking lot of apartments known to be a trouble area as well as desolate side streets.
Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.