By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin
ELWOOD, Ind. — A few weeks ago, Elwood police officers stepped into the Marsh Supermarket on Ind. 37.
"What's wrong?" asked a few concerned employees.
There was no crime being investigated. The officers were there to introduce themselves and make their presence known. It's the "what's wrong" reaction that Chief of Police Sam Hanna is looking to change with a series of community policing initiatives.
In March, Hanna and Elwood Mayor Ron Arnold revealed plans aimed at efficient use of police resources and introducing a young force to the community. The plans include downtown walking patrols, bike brigades, a police cadet program, Hispanic outreach and introduction of a citizen review panel.
This past week, Hanna announced that the city and police department had either met or had made significant progress toward the goals they set in the spring. The department has especially stepped up foot patrols and bike patrols in anticipation of summer events like the Elwood Glass Festival in August, when a significant police presence will be necessary.
But the department is also focusing on getting to know the city and vice versa. Hanna was concerned his younger police force didn't have a connection with the small-town residents and wanted more interaction with local businesses.
"The businesses aren't used to seeing them, and that's what we wanted to change," Hanna said.
Some of the other initiatives were aimed at increasing a law enforcement presence without further stretching resources. Hanna said he's seen an increase in participation from volunteers in the city's neighborhood watch program. He also hired five new reserve officers to bring the total to eight reserves.
Hanna also wanted the department to grow its own force from within the city by reaching out to high school students. Captain Scott Bertram started a summer weightlifting program with Elwood High School students, again with the intention of introducing law enforcement to the community.
"Bertram really likes helping youth and he's really gotten involved with it. We want to give them something positive to focus on," Hanna said.
Perhaps the biggest undertaking of the new initiatives is a Citizens Review Panel, conceived as a conduit for citizens to bring formal complaints against the police department without having to deal directly with police officers, but Arnold said he hopes it becomes more than that. The seven-member body is a few weeks from being activated, Arnold said on Thursday.
The panel will be modeled after citizens review panels in other cities. Arnold said it will be similar to Anderson’s three-person Board of Public Safety, which provides the public with advocates in overseeing police, firefighters and other public safety offices.
The current procedure is for the public to go to Elwood Police Department officers with any complaints. Arnold, who has used what other cities have done as a framework, said the panel will take grievances, review cases and bring formal complaints to the mayor and the police chief.
Hanna also expects the panel to streamline operations for police.
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