Chief wants to put 'more eyes on the street' to fight crime and change perception

 The Taft Police Department is planning to expand its citizens volunteer program to boost crime prevention efforts in the city.

Chief of Police Ed Whiting and Sgt. Corey Beilby, who will be in charge of the unit, updated the city's Public Safety Committee last week.

Whiting said police need “more eyes on the target, more eyes on the street” to battle both an increase in crime from repeat offenders who aren't staying in jail and the perception in the public that police aren't patrolling enough.

“We're very good at catching the bad guys,” Whiting said. “But we're not very good at keeping them in jail because of AB109.”

Both Whiting and City Manager Craig Jones referred to rumors on social media last week with apparently false information about on attack on Rails to Trails.

Whiting investigated the rumor and found the woman whose Facebook contained an account of an attack on Rails to Trails.

She denied that an attack took place, Whiting said.

“I think we pretty much concluded its unfounded,” Jones said.

Additional patrol by citizens volunteers, both on foot and in vehicles, will help with rumors like that, Whiting said.

“It will clear up misconceptions and myths that patrol isn't taking place,” Whiting said.

“People like to see a patrol car because if they don't see a patrol car come by every hour, they think you are not patrolling,” added Beilby. “We've got to be more visible.”

The volunteers could help with more patrols downtown, where merchants have complained about vandalism and burglaries.

Beilby said he has done foot patrol through the area and would like to use volunteers, too.

Councilman Orchel Krier, who sits on the committee, encouraged Beilby to attend meeting of the Taft Chamber of Commerce's Downtown Business Committee.

Beilby said he plans to look at how departments in Bakersfield, Shafter, and Delano operate.

The volunteers will be trained in spotting crime, identifying suspects, especially remembering suspect descriptions and clothing, radio operations and assisting at traffic accidents.
They will also be useful for crowd and traffic control at large events like Oildorado.

Prospective volunteers will undergo background checks and wear uniforms that are distinctive from regular police uniforms.

Volunteers may be using city vehicles to patrol on their own to increase the number of patrol cars.

“Before they used to ride with officers,” Whiting said. “Now they are going to be riding by themselves so we can get more people out on the street.”

The added expense of a citizen volunteer unit may require an increase in the police department's budget, Whiting said.