Businesses help extend law enforcement’s reach
The sight of police officers having coffee in a doughnut shop may elicit wisecracks. But in cities such as Coral Springs, Fla., and Bend, Ore., officers who appear to be hanging out at fast food restaurants or convenience stores probably are working.
Rather than spend money on new facilities, many police departments are forging partnerships with private sector businesses that permit use of their desks, phones and office equipment. The businesses usually pay for the phones and other equipment, as well as for the promotional placards advertising the police presence. The concept is a new take on community policing that enables officers to project a higher profile in neighborhoods at minimal cost.
At the businesses, police can complete paperwork, meet with the public, make phone calls, and send and receive faxes. Often, officers are present at the mini-police stations only a few hours each day, but even that minimal presence can deter crime and help build relationships with the community, according to Sgt. Jeffrey Maslan of the Coral Springs (Fla.) Police Department.
Convenience stores, traditionally vulnerable to armed robberies, are jumping at the chance to accommodate the police. For example, Southland Corp., the parent company of convenience store chain 7-Eleven, has spent nearly $1 million to establish Police Community Network Centers (PCNCs) at about 170 stores in 19 states and the District of Columbia, says Company Spokeswoman Margaret Chabris.
PCNCs usually consist of a workspace with a podium or desk, a dedicated telephone, file drawers and racks for displaying crime prevention literature. Some locations include a dedicated fax machine, computer terminal, community bulletin board and designated police parking. Police in Eugene, Ore., also use their PCNC as a mail drop for officers.
The police department in Bend, Ore., opened its PCNC in August 1997. The department also has “drop-in” police stations in a coffee shop and a downtown stationery store. “It helps us keep our officers out in the field,” says Police Chief Robert Glynn, who notes that officers in the mini-stations often can reduce their response time to calls.
The Coral Springs police department has “field offices” in four McDonald’s restaurants, several other fast food outlets, an ice skating rink and a jewelry store. “It’s working out great,” Maslan says. “It breaks down the barriers and develops communication and a partnership between police and the community.”
Maslan says the public perceives officers as more approachable when they are working in a restaurant rather than sitting in a squad car filling out a report. Coral Springs also has a substation in the Coral Square Mall and another in an apartment in the city’s northeastern area, where there were none before.
Bend, which plans a major annexation soon, will open more drop-in centers at private businesses, but it also plans to add police substations to refurbished or newly built fire stations in all four quadrants of the city, Glynn says.