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In days past, police officers mostly walked beats in communities, and at the end of 30 years were given a "gold key" to commemorate their service. The key was representative of the call boxes they would activate within their area to show a central dispatcher that they were OK and were checking in.

Today's officer is constantly being tracked by the use of technology, such as radios and sophisticated GPS tracking devices. It's for their protection, as well as busy metro departments' desires to allocate assets more efficiently.

Starting in the early 60s, administrators were beginning to see some of the drawbacks in their mobility, as it was determined that a greater effort should be made to decentralize command structures. This would enable field supervisors to make more decisions in the field, rather than reverting back to a more centralized command structure.

The advent of "community policing" isn't anything new, said Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino.

Both Schettino and City Manager Roger Hernstadt support the concept.

"Besides decentralizing command we've seen the positive results of getting people out of their vehicles more and more to interact with the public," said Schettino.

"The old beat cop used to do this on a day-to-day basis. Walking in neighborhoods and stopping by the local businesses. They established a rapport with those they met and became familiar with the families and those within the neighborhoods," said Schettino.

Group comes in for seminar

Marco Island recently hosted a week-long seminar aimed at reviewing the many aspects of community policing. The session was run by an East Coast training group specializing in law enforcement education and training. Seven officers from Marco Island and one each from both Collier County Sheriff's Office and Naples police department participated.

"This was a great opportunity for our people to learn more about the program and open our eyes to how far reaching it can be," said Schettino.

"One of the advantages of having our officers out of the cars more is in the effort to make an officer more approachable," said Capt. Dave Baer. "People are apt to be more forthcoming if they are familiar with an officer and this can pay us back in big dividends regarding intelligence gathering when we do have issues out there."

"We have the advantage of having a great mix of experienced officers with a number of years of experience that allows them to mentor newer officers. That experience is invaluable in guiding a newer officer as he or she builds on their skills, and it can also work in the reverse mode," said Sgt. Nick Ojanovac, who supervises the patrol and investigative divisions.

Marine patrol, bikes

Over the last year, the Marco department has reinstituted a dedicated marine unit to patrol the 120 miles of canals and waterfront areas. The department also has instituted a bike patrol, which brings officers into the business areas regularly. The police motorcycle has also been deployed regularly.

"The presence in our schools are also ongoing and we enjoy a great relationship there with the administration, staff, students and parents," said Schettino. "Marco has been rated one of the safest communities in Florida to live. All the numbers I've seen have us as either the safest or number 2, 3 or 5 in the state. This is based upon studies done by a number of unaffiliated groups. This is directly related to the great work our people do out there."

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