By Brian Livingston / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Meridian Police Department Chief James Lee said his officers were getting worked to death and for that reason he has changed some aspects of the department.
"We were getting hammered!" Lee said. "Our call volume was outrageous and the officers on the streets were being run from one side of the city to the other. Something had to be done."
Enter the zone and quadrant system.
Lee said with the support of the Meridian City Council members and Mayor Percy Bland, he expects to hire eight to nine more officers in the coming days. If that happens, and the officers become certified through the Law Enforcement Academy in Pearl, that will go a long way in providing a much stronger police force on the streets to protect the residents, Lee said. When those officers do hit the streets, they will be placed in one of four zones of Meridian.
Lee said the zone and quadrant system is in place now and his department has already seen a decrease in call volume and improved response times. Lee said within each zone there are four quadrants. Each quadrant will have an officer in place for 90-day stretches. By doing this, Lee said the officer will become intimately familiar with his quadrant, the people who live there, and be better able to interact with the citizens.
"The officer will be encouraged to get out of the car and shake hands with the residents," Lee said. "Meet the people and really do what police are supposed to do which is community policing."
Lee said each quadrant will be made up of about 10 city blocks.
A recent survey, Lee said, shows that the high call volume under the old system was putting a strain on police officers. He said July, August, and September were the worst months.
"Since we went to the zone/quadrant system, and with the assistance of Central Dispatch, we have cut down on much of that volume and shortened the reaction time of officers getting to the trouble spot," Lee said.
Reaction is the buzz word not only for this new concept but for the "See Something, Say Something" anti-crime initiative Lee and Bland have been pushing for several months. Lee wants the residents to give the police a chance to react to a situation rather that have to make up ground after a crime has occurred.
"That is the whole idea behind the 311 system we have in place now," Lee said. "No longer can a person say, 'I don't want to call because they will know who I am.' Now you call and no one knows who you are, where you are, or anything about you."
Residents can dial the 311 number when they see something suspicious and police can react immediately. The system is set up so there is no caller ID and police have no way of knowing where the call came from.
The 311 only works on land lines right now. Lee said he hopes in two weeks the cell phone service will be in place.
"We know we are going to get some bogus calls but we are also going to get some very good tips about suspicious activity we haven't been getting before," Lee said. "That is the exciting part of this."
Lee is convinced with the addition of more officers on the horizon, the 311 call system, and the zone and quadrant system he has in place, crime will be reduced.
"The zone/quadrant system will put the officer in the general area. The 311 system will tip the officer to the possibility of a crime about to happen, and the number of officers available to get there quickly will really make it hard on the criminal element," Lee said.
Lee will host two seminars to explain the 311 call system to residents. The first seminar will be Thursday, Nov. 21, at the Boys and Girls Club. The second will be Friday, Nov. 22, at the Temple Theater. Both start at 5:30 p.m.
Lee encourages everyone to come to one of the seminars where he will further explain how the program works.
"I feel that we're all part of this team," Lee said. "I want to make the citizens of Meridian understand the call is not going to lead back to them. They can expect me to make them understand that I want to make our policemen responsible to the public for their safety."
Lee said he will explain whenever someone makes a call to the 311 number, there are specific things, information, that needs to be conveyed clearly. He said if the caller remembers these three words — who, what, where — then officers will have the basic information they need to react.
"People need to realize if they see someone walking along the street looking into cars, that is a reason to call us. It is probable cause for us to ask those people what they are doing and why," Lee said.