Janesville58.6°

Whitewater cops walking the beat

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Kayla Bunge
August 2, 2008
— Officer Bill Oliver is a throwback to the days when cops walked the beat.

He strolls through the city, stopping in at local businesses, warning children not to play in the street and talking to people while they’re watering the lawn.


“I feel like I’m doing real policing the old-fashioned way,” Oliver said.


The Whitewater Police Department has asked its officers to park their squad cars for at least an hour per shift and opt for foot patrol as the department looks for ways to reduce its fuel consumption in the face of high gas prices.


“We’re tethered to the car in so many ways,” said Police Chief James Coan.


But the department had to get creative so as not to compromise its ability to quickly respond to calls.


Officers have been asked to spend the time walking neighborhoods, observing traffic, talking to people, solving problems or following up on investigations.


Oliver, who’s been with the department for 17 years, opted for foot patrol. He said it gives him an opportunity to interact with people in a more up-close and personal way.


“I get more contact with the public, more positive contact with the public,” he said. “When we’re responding to calls … it’s always at some level of crises, and it’s really nice to get out there and actually have a conversation with people that’s not crisis-related.”


Oliver said in the month that he’s been walking the beat, he’s been able to alleviate some of the natural tension that can develop in a neighborhood, whether it’s as mundane as a loud music complaint or as sensitive as a domestic violence complaint.


“People bring their concerns to me, observations they might not normally bring to me,” he said.


Coan said having officers on foot throughout the city has re-established the bond that used to exist between citizens and police officers.


“People can see and talk to an officer,” he said. “It’s not just an officer driving by in a squad car.”


Oliver said people have told him they feel safer knowing he’s out walking the streets. And he said he feels better, too.


Coan said it’s too early to quantify the money the department has saved by using less gas, but Oliver said he’s noticed a difference just on his shifts: he puts on lot less miles, and he fills up a lot less often.


Coan said the department will evaluate its fuel-saving measures at the end of the summer, because as UW-Whitewater students head back to school and as the weather begins to turn cooler, the needs will undoubtedly change.


“And should gas prices really go through the roof, we might have to be even more stringent,” he said.


But even if the pain at the pump eases up, Oliver said he’ll still walk the beat.



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