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The Danville Police Department on April 1 will place its Street Crimes Unit into operation again, and when it does, the unit’s presence will be greater than before.
The expanded presence is due to placement of the unit in the Community Policing Division, which consists of about 20 officers.
“By doing that, we are ramping up the manpower,” said Capt. Tommy Merricks. “Now, we will have the Street Crimes Unit in operation seven days a week.”
Previously, the Street Crimes Unit was a small group of eight officers working as a separate team within the department.
The unit was first launched in November 2010 as part of a much larger program known as Safe & Sound Neighborhoods. Dressed in civilian clothing with identifying vests and windbreakers, the task of the officers in the unit was not to respond to calls across the city, but to spend their time in targeted areas. They not only were visible, but proactive in talking with citizens and establishing a rapport.
“It is all about citizen contact,” Merricks said. “A lot of our work is getting information from the citizens we come into contact with.”
The first focus area was a north-central section of Danville that had experienced 13 homicides over the previous five years. The homicides ranged from drug- and gang-related incidents to arguments that quickly escalated.
The unit’s success was immediate.
“We had no homicides there during the year we were in operation,” Merricks pointed out.
The unit made numerous arrests for drugs. “Drugs have a connection to violence,” Merricks said. “They have a connection to property crimes. Most any disruption in a community is connected to drugs and alcohol.”
As for the high number of alcohol-related charges brought by the unit, Merricks makes no apology.
“When you lock up a drunk, you have no more trouble from that person the rest of the night. You receive no more calls to go back and address any problem they may be causing. That’s not going to change.”
After stemming criminal activity in the first focus area, the unit then concentrated its efforts in the south-central neighborhood bounded by Ridge and Monument streets on the north, Memorial Drive on the west, Central Boulevard on the south, and Industrial Avenue on the east.
Though the unit had equal success in that neighborhood, it was disbanded last November, about one full year after its creation.
“Our philosophy is that special units have life spans,” Merricks said. “Criminal activity had slowed down significantly. The success of that first year had outweighed any of our expectations.”
The break allowed the Police Department to further evaluate the unit, its scope and how it could best be used.
Now, with its placement as part of the Community Policing Division, the unit will be more flexible. Each officer in the division will serve as part of the Street Crimes Unit, but they will continue to be assigned to community-related activities, such as providing police presence along the city’s outdoor recreational trails and at festivals and other events.
“The officers have bought into the changes, and they will take pride in being part of this division,” Merricks said.
The K9 unit is part of the Community Policing Division.
“This will help us with detection of narcotics,” Merricks said.
The Police Department also has obtained a grant to purchase new equipment such as wireless body cameras that record the interaction between officers and citizens.
“We had few complaints from citizens before,” Merricks said. “We had body cameras then, but this is a better system. As officers, we must be beyond reproach. The cameras help reinforce that. The video does not lie.”
With more officers serving on the Street Crimes Unit, a mix of marked and unmarked patrol cars will be used. Previously, the unit used unmarked cars only.
Merricks said the unit will operate in the same focus areas as before, but it will go to any neighborhood as needed.
“We want to build on the success of the previous unit,” Merricks said. “With more officers, we will not have lapses in days in which the unit is available for operation, and that we believe will better serve the citizens.”
The division is headquartered in Doyle Thomas Park on Green Street.
“We welcome citizens to contact us with concerns and feedback,” Merricks said. “They can remain anonymous.”