SAVANNAH, GA (Aug. 15, 2014): Islands Precinct Patrol officers are taking an innovative approach to building relationships with the public and results are beginning to accumulate.

Leading the way, Island’s Precinct Patrol units and newly assigned precinct Crime Prevention Officer Ryan Thomas have launched Operation Trust and Information, designed to seek out one-on-one conversations with citizens they serve. They hand out tips for crime prevention and information.

“The idea is to connect with the people we protect,” said Thomas. “Each officer picks at least one individual and makes it a point to introduce themselves and get to know that person. In return, the individual gets to know the officer in a positive manner.”

In a two-week period, Islands Precinct officers made 190 such contacts: sometimes walking into businesses for a conversation, approaching customers in coffee shops or grocery stores and even talking to neighbors when called to scenes.

After the two weeks from July 28 through last Saturday, the precinct received more calls from people providing information and from businesses requesting the free security checks they were unaware SCMPD provides. Some even called just to discuss how to deal with neighborhood issues.

“Building trust is the most important thing for us,” Thomas said. “Unfortunately, during the course of the daily patrol, some of our meetings may not be that positive. This gives the public a chance to see police in a different light.… one in which they are trying to prevent issues rather than reacting to them.”

The idea started from one Thomas and other officers originated while riding a beat in the precinct late last year. They began checking vehicles on the south half of the precinct between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. “During the initial trial we found over 30 unlocked vehicles in one small neighborhood,” Thomas said.

This then  grew into a precinct wide event lead by Captain John Best called “Lock Your Car Door”. In a three-night period, officers found 500 cars left unlocked or with valuable items in plain view. Almost every car break-in involves one or the other. “It showed me how pervasive the issue was and that the only way to solve it was through officer/citizen contact,” Thomas said.

The officers left a note for the owners reading: “Due to the rise in entering autos, police are checking vehicles in your neighborhood. Your vehicle was found UNLOCKED. Please help us protect your property. Lock It or Lose It.” The response from the public was extremely positive.

Later checks found that approximately 90 percent of the vehicles in the same areas were now locked and had very few items showing within them. Included were four cars that had been found unlocked at one residence.  All four were locked..

Police Chief Julie Tolbert has praised the innovative efforts in weekly CompStat meetings:

“This is the kind of effort we need to build relationships with our community and reduce crime,” she said. “These were terrific ways to engage the public in a warm, helpful manner, providing those contacts that encourage participation between police and citizens. We are encouraging all precincts to continue to think innovatively to build such rapport.”