Pubdate: Tue, 21 May 2002
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2002 The State
Author: Clif LeBlanc


Bruce Jackson is a father of four and a grandfather looking to become part 
of a new family.

The outgoing 48-year-old has taken a job he hopes will make him a 
not-so-distant relative to neighbors in Columbia's Read Street area.

Jackson is part of the city's first wave of community safety officers. 
Their job is to stroll neighborhoods, get to know everyone and watch out 
for problems.

Jackson and eight others hired so far are civilians. They don't carry guns 
or make arrests, the city stresses.

"We are asking them to be the eyes and ears for the (police) department and 
the community," said police Lt. Harold Reaves, who runs the $250,000 
program. Fifteen safety officers are to be in 15 neighborhoods by July 1.

The program is just getting started. The uniforms are to arrive today and 
three weeks of on-foot orientation began last week.

Reaves said he knows of no other such program in South Carolina.

Monday, Jackson, a former school security officer, was out with police 
officer Mike Myers, an 11-year veteran who is a Norman Rockwell version of 
a street cop - the friendly yet strict officer who knows everyone on his 
beat and looks out for them.

Myers has been showing Jackson around the 20-block area that abuts Benedict 
College between Harden Street and Two Notch Road.

Once a haven for drug dealers and other lawbreakers, Myers proudly showed 
Jackson around a different place.

"The whole area has taken a new look," Myers said. "With a new look come 
new attitudes."

Where once the drug trade kept people inside, Myers and Jackson were 
greeted with waves from neighbors on their porches and friendly folks 
honking their car horns.

"I welcome Officer Jackson with my heart open," said Mary Blanding, a 
22-year resident of Allen-Benedict Court, a 244-unit public housing complex 
in the heart of the neighborhood.

Blanding, 66, is a friend to police, Myers said. She knows who lives in the 
community and who shouldn't be there. She calls when she's suspicious and 
sends police appreciative cards once a month.

"I'm going to be a family member to people around here," Jackson said as he 
walked on a cool, sunny afternoon. "Once I really get out there in the 
community and get to know their problems '.'.'. I will be a problem solver."

The problem can be as simple as Monday's. Jackson helped two elementary 
school boys put the chain back on their bike.

Or it can be calling 911 to get police or an ambulance quickly. It can be 
calling city sanitation workers to pick up trash missed during routine 
pickup service.

Edith Hall, manager of the housing complex, said neighbors are welcoming 
the new patrols. "We've seen a big difference already," she said. "There's 
not as many complaints (of loitering and drugs)."

Jackson's eight days of classroom training included self-defense lessons. 
He does not wear a bullet-proof vest nor will he have a car. The idea is to 
be accessible to the community, not chase down criminals.

"They don't want us to touch them," he said. "I'm to use the radio."

But Jackson carries pepper spray, a walkie-talkie, flashlight and latex 
gloves should he happen upon someone who is bleeding.

Jackson plans to stay out of harm's way.

"I'm going to be smart enough to avoid the situation," he said, 
acknowledging the job poses safety threats.

Jackson persuaded his wife to let him take the $21,800-a-year job because 
it is safer than being a police officer, which he hopes to become.

"I convinced her to let me go this route, and maybe she'll change her mind."

The job is not necessarily a stepping stone to police work, Reaves said.

But the city is taking on the liability for Jackson and the others. They 
are city employees and the city will be responsible for what happens to 
them on the job and what they do.

They will walk their beats make that neighborhoods -- during daytime hours 
Mondays through Fridays.

The city wants to extend the program beyond the six-month pilot project, 
Reaves said.

Reaves has high hopes for Columbia's 72 neighborhoods. "It's our goal, one 
day, to have an officer in every community."
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