Downtown Toledo has a new police chief and sheriff.
So said the actual Toledo police chief, Derrick Diggs, during a Wednesday news conference announcing a new Team Policing unit, aimed at enhancing safety in the downtown, UpTown, and Warehouse District neighborhoods.
The team effort pairs Toledo Officer Tony Duncan, a 26-year veteran, with Lucas County Sheriff's Deputy Kurtis Whitman, who has been with the department for 7 ½ years.
“Making the city proud. That’s what it’s all about,” said Officer Duncan.
The initiative, the second of its kind in the city, is a new-old approach to community policing. Most of the time, officers are seen only in their patrol cars, said Officer Duncan. He and his new partner will have the option to be in a car, on foot, or on bicycle, whatever they feel might work best.
Chief Diggs said there was no cost for the program other than taking a vehicle from the Toledo police fleet and giving it a makeover. The car has both the Toledo police and Lucas County sheriff’s logos — the back, in bold white letters, reads “TEAM POLICING.”
Mayor Mike Bell said the idea was born out of safety concerns from downtown businessmen such as Dennis Johnson, president of Brooks Insurance, 1120 Madison Ave.
Mr. Johnson said a nearby drug-testing facility has caused parking problems for his employees and clients, which prompted complaints to the city and, eventually, the formation of the downtown patrol. “Some businesses have left downtown because of some of the elements that are down here,” Mr. Johnson said.
Nick Haddad, who owns Nick’s Barber Shop on Madison, said the dedicated downtown patrol is needed. He’s watched the number of people downtown continually decline in the 47 years his shop has been there. A dedicated patrol might make people feel more comfortable coming back to the city’s center.
Overall, the downtown, UpTown, and Warehouse District are considered among the safest neighborhoods in Toledo. “There’s really not a lot of reported crime there,” said police Sgt. Joe Heffernan. “Especially felony-type crimes. Most of the problems we have in that area are more annoyance and quality-of-life type issues: simple thefts, criminal damaging, loitering, public urination. Stuff like that.”
Officer Duncan and Deputy Whitman, both Toledo natives, will work Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., adjusting the schedule if necessary. Their duties will include providing referrals to people who might need them — homeless people to the Cherry Street Mission, for example — and getting to know people in the areas.
“We want people to see us as a positive and not the enemy,” Officer Duncan said.
Toledo police have a similar partnership with the University of Toledo Police Department, which has paired officers from each department since 1994, said UTPD Chief Jeff Newton. “It’s been a real positive. That’s why it’s been around so long,” Chief Newton said.
Emily Gessner is the manager of Bleak House, a cozy and trendy coffee shop on Madison that is one of downtown’s newest businesses.
“If something progressive is happening with security downtown, it's only going to help … and give people confidence in the area,” she said.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.