It’s no secret that the Square is the busiest place in Oxford, but the growing number of Oxford residents has forced the police department to find new ways to keep the Square properly policed. The small section of the city will soon become its own district, and eight officers will be assigned to the area.
With the amount of activity on the Square on any given weekend, the police department devised this plan to give their officers a way to keep the Square covered without working abnormally long shifts throughout the week. The new program will not look much different to Oxonians as they visit the historic downtown area, according to Major Jeff McCutchen.
“Looking from a citizen’s eye, it won’t look a whole lot different, but what this does is it helps allocate resources better on our end. The last two football seasons have been really taxing on our staff,” McCutchen said. “Many times from mid-August to Thanksgiving, we have officers working six days a week, and when the season ends they are just worn out. We saw how worn out they were, and this allows us to improve the quality of life for the officers and safety of the people.”
Providing more resources will help the department crack down on certain areas of the Square that may have been previously neglected.
“It’s really just your restaurant and bar areas where your main population is, and we had courage around that. This will allow more parking lot coverage which is a huge concern for us with burglaries and assaults,” McCutchen said. “These officers will not only be on foot, but they’ll also be on bikes. We’ll put our Polaris out there; there will be mobile coverage that they don’t currently have.”
With crowd size increasing, OPD hasn’t been the only one concerned with the efforts to keep the Square under control. Discussions have taken place over the past few years between OPD and local business owners about what can be done.
“Over the last two years, we’ve had so many conversations with business owners about wanting more presence there,” McCutchen said. “The crowds are growing, it’s just jam packed with people, and I think it freaks them out. We were giving them the best coverage we could, but I feel like this will be a win-win for the community and the business owners that want more presence.”
The unit will consist of eight officers, four of which will come from the Flex unit, which was developed to provide officers to high traffic areas on a flexible schedule. Four new officers will join them to create the eight-officer unit. While the increased presence may put fear into some, McCutchen wants to be clear about the unit’s role.
“We’re not sending eight officers up there strictly in an enforcement role,” he said. “This is going to be an educating role where they go out and talk to businesses, people on the Square and ask ‘what are your needs? If this is a place you frequent often, what are looking for in terms of safety?’ or ‘how can we help you enjoy coming to the Square?’”
Four of the officers have already been working the area and are awaiting the four new officers to graduate from the academy. Upon graduation, the officers will act as a “shot in the arm, resource wise” for the existing units. OPD hopes to have the program up and running by the first weekend in May. With that being close to the end of the spring semester, McCutchen is looking forward to working with the Square Alliance and businesses to devise a cohesive effort to properly police the Square.
“We want to educate and work hand-in-hand with business owners to talk about what we expect and how we do this together. So when the students get back in August, we have a good game plan to keep everyone safe,” McCutchen said. “We want everyone to have a good time while limiting the incidents we have downtown. The goal is to make this the safest possible environment that we can provide.”
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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