RICHLANDS. Va. — Foot patrol isn’t something one often sees in rural Southwest Virginia, but the revival of the old practice in Richlands is proving to be popular with community members and police officers alike.
Richlands Police Chief Jerry Gilbert reinstated the tradition shortly after he took the department’s helm last July. He said the walkabouts, as the deaprtment calls them, serve to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the community.
“It’s great. We’ve had a really good response from the community,” he said. “And it’s been a good tool as far as my department getting back out in the community and getting to meet folks.”
Each Wednesday, officers conduct walkabouts in random sections of town on various shifts, popping into businesses just to check in or chitchat. Officers call these patrols “Walkabout Wednesdays.” The department still conducts regular foot patrols continue throughout the week.
Gilbert hopes the initiative will foster stronger relationships with the community by getting community members acquainted with the officers who serve them. Having a good rapport with the community makes it easier for people to reach out to law enforcement and talk to them about the issues they are facing, he said.
Tammy Cruey, who works at the Cargo on 2nd Street, said the increased police presence also brings a better sense of security to the town businesses.
“I like them popping in to say hello,” she said. “It makes it feel a little safer on the ground, especially in a convenience store. We get a lot of people walking around. With the officers walking it too, I think it just makes it feel a little safer.”
The practice was still in full swing when Gilbert began his career at the Richlands Police Department 18 years ago. While doing foot patrol himself, he developed some good friendships and was able to police the community more effectively and with more ease.
“Years ago, you’d have a lot of officers getting out and doing foot patrol, walking the beat and visiting folks. Somewhere along the way, it was lost, but I’m old-school police; I like to interact with the community. That’s how you find out what’s going on or if people are having problems and if there’s anything you can do to help.”
Now that the practice is back, Gilbert said his officers are fond of the foot patrols, too.
“They like the interaction with the community. It puts a face with a badge,” he said. “They like the fact that the community knows who they are. We drive down the street and people are throwing their hands up.”
As an added bonus, the initiative also helps local businesses by giving them free exposure when the department posts its Walkabout Wednesday photos on its Facebook page, Gilbert said.
“Some people will see stuff in the background and message us and say, ‘what business is that?’ Sometimes they don’t know the business is even there.”
Walkabout Wednesdays isn’t the only initiative the department is undertaking to help foster stronger relationships with the community. In addition to several other community programs, the PD is also heavily involved with a number of youth events.
One such event is scheduled for this Saturday. Funded by a grant from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Virginia Wildlife Foundation, the Kids in the Creek program will teach children ages 12 through 18 to kayak on the Clinch River.
Gilbert also serves as a boating instructor for the DGIF. When he applied for the grant, he designed his program to incorporate the police department to help promote good relationships with local youth.
“We’re going to get some cops and some kids out here kayaking,” Gilbert said. “I’m a strong advocate of doing things with the youth to let them know that we’re not the enemy, that we’re just normal people out here doing a job.”
Gilbert hopes Kids in the Creek will be a recurring event. Registration for Saturday’s event is underway and Gilbert encourages participants to attend a boater safety course at the police department on Wednesday.
For more information on Kids in the Creek, or to see photos from the department’s latest Walkabout Wedensday, visit the Richlands Police Departments Facebook page.