Starting Monday, Gainesville police will pick up the PACE of community policing.
The department’s newly created unit, Proactive Community Enforcement or PACE, teams its specialized patrol officers with police dog handlers, a park ranger and crime analysts to better target problem neighborhoods and help stem the flow of illegal drugs through highway interdiction, officials say.
“It’s going to be a good matchup,” said Sgt. Jim Von Essen, who will supervise the unit out of the department’s new south precinct at the Featherbone Communiversity complex. “They’ll really be working hand-in-hand.”
Late last year, the department assigned a two-officer team to focus on areas of the city using crime data analysis. The Aggressive Criminal Enforcement unit, or ACE, frees officers from the normal duties of responding to calls in order to conduct focused patrols and get out of the car more.
“I have my own time to be proactive in high crime areas and on the interstates,” ACE unit officer Josh Shiflett said. Just maintaining a high-visibility presence in areas where crime trends surface helps serve as a deterrent, he said.
Now the deterrent factor will be upped, with Shiflett joined on patrols by the department’s dog handlers, commonly referred to by police as the K-9 unit. Von Essen said assigning dogs to the unit is a better use of an effective, and expensive, asset. It also provides more flexibility to dog handlers, who spent much of their time on routine patrol.
“This gives us more time to get out in the community and concentrate on the high-crime areas,” said K-9 officer Jeremy Edge, whose German shepherd Quenn is trained to sniff out drugs and capture fugitives on the run. “We can also get out and do some interdiction stops with the ACE unit.”
The city’s park ranger will continue normal duties while providing the new unit with a familiarity with the city’s 20 parks that can come in useful while looking for criminals, Von Essen said.
Providing direction to the PACE unit will be a two-person crime data analysis team that will let officers know where to focus their efforts.
The PACE unit won’t just be searching suspicious cars for drugs or locking up burglars, though. Following the theory that neighborhood neglect breeds criminal activity, quality of life issues will be addressed, too, Von Essen said.
“If it’s a problem in the community, they’re going to take care of the problem,” Von Essen said. “If we’re having problems with people hanging out at a crack house and the place is run down, we’ll look at how to solve the problem. We could look at getting the house condemned. We may get it cleaned up through the marshal’s office or work with Georgia Power to get street lights turned back on over that house. It’s not just locking people up, but nontraditional strategies, working with the community.”
One partner in the new unit won’t wear a badge or carry a gun but hopefully will provide plenty of guidance.
“The C in PACE – the community – is really important,” Von Essen said. “We’re going to be relying on them. We can’t be successful without the community’s help.”