In May, Marion Police Chief Joseph McHale presented his officers with a challenge — connect with all Marion’s businesses in 100 days. The exercise, he said, came after the police department devised a new beat strategy for its patrol officers.
McHale said the 100-day challenge would help officers acclimate to the new structure and give them an opportunity to connect with the businesses within their beats.
“The plan initially was devised to help officers acclimate to a beat structure and get to know the areas in their beats and develop a sense of ownership for their areas,” McHale said.
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After the challenge started May 14, McHale said his patrol officers hit the ground running, using downtime during their shifts to make contact with every brick-and-mortar business in their beat areas, and finishing the project with five days to spare.
“I’ll be honest with you, this was far beyond anything that I expected,” he said. “We’re all really proud of what we did, and we’re really proud of the results.”
Those results, the chief said, were far bigger than anticipated.
“When we initially thought of doing this, I thought we were talking about maybe a couple hundred businesses,” he said. “And here we are with more than 930 business contacts later, we’re all kind of astounded at what we’ve found. Never in a million years did I think that we could reach so many businesses and make connections with so many people. You don’t realize how many businesses there really are in your community and how much your community is growing until you try to reach out to all of them.”
But connection wasn’t the only goal.
When officers paid their visits, they brought packets of information on city services, police services and other avenues that could prove useful to business owners. Additionally, officers were asked to fill out a card with updated information for each business. The cards included information about the business, its location and owner, as well as emergency contact information.
“The dispatchers are already seeing the benefits of having updated information,” McHale said. “Now when something happens at one of these businesses, we have correct information on its location, what type of business it is and who to contact.”
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Businesses also were offered the opportunity to have officers come back and provide a free security assessment.
“It’s been a great opportunity for the businesses’ owners to engage with a police officer when bad things aren’t happening,” McHale said. “And the response has been very positive. I think the business owners are grateful to our officers for stopping in, introducing themselves and engaging with them. I think it has been important for the business owners to have that positive contact as well as an opportunity to talk about their concerns and let the officers know if they are having any kind of problems.”
McHale said he has enjoyed listening to the feedback from business owners.
“At first they were nervous, wondering why the cops were showing up, and then they were surprised that the officers had just stopped by to say hello, introduce themselves and give them information,” he said. “I got stories like that all the time.”
McHale said the challenge also has helped the police department map out the types of businesses in the community.
“That was really important for us from a safety standpoint,” he said. “For example, if a business handles hazardous materials, that’s important for us to know if we ever have to respond to a fire or incident there.”
The project was such a success, McHale said he’d now like to see the department focus similar efforts in the city’s neighborhoods.
“We’ve engaged the businesses now and the next step is we want to engage our neighborhoods,” he said. “First, we want to identify who those community leaders are and help establish those relationships and build more community ownership, and that’s important to have here especially as Marion continues to grow. So I think that’s the next step for us.”
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