COCOA, Fla. - When numerous gun violence incidents rattled the city of Cocoa in December, Police Chief Mike Cantaloupe decided it was time for a change.
In January, he told his officers to get out of their cars, walk the streets, and talk to neighbors.
He calls the idea simply "Park, walk, talk."
"I kept hearing people say, 'We'd like to see more officers in the community, we'd like to see more officers in the community,' " Cantaloupe said.
Many of his patrol officers now spend much of their day on foot.
Officer Chris Hattaway, with his partner Ralph Perrone, drove News 6 to Pine Grove Park and Virginia Park and parked his patrol car.
"I've seen a murder here, a murder-suicide, an officer-involved shooting, this is a high drug-crime area," said Hattaway.
But Hattaway said since he started driving less and walking and talking more, neighbors have started sharing information with him and his fellow officers, including crime concerns and tips.
"We're out today to see if something is happening in your neighborhood," Hattaway asked one man standing in his driveway.
"Is there anything we can do as a police department?" Hattaway asked a woman standing in her front yard.
Hattaway said through the new line of communication he finds out about problems and can pinpoint a solution. Often, citizens offer the best solutions, he said.
During the few hours on Wednesday News 6 accompanied Hattaway during his walk citizens asked for a stop sign, improved lighting, cameras and speed bumps.
"We wanted to get information from them and put together a game plan and address the problems they were telling us about," Cantaloupe said.
News 6 anchor Erik von Ancken asked the police chief how their efforts are getting results.
The chief said since he implemented "park, walk, talk," his Uniform Crime Report (UCR) shows shootings, sex crimes and car burglaries across Cocoa are down.
"We're getting information from our community and they start to personalize with the community," Cantaloupe said. "So when we go into a neighborhood, and when we have a incident, the officers have been walking around in that neighborhood so the people are more apt to come up to the officers and talk about the incident."
Cantaloupe admitted there was and still is apprehension from residents.
"When we first got out, people were very cautious about wanting to talk to us," Cantaloupe said. "But as we started talking to people, they started coming out of their houses."
Bernice Cox, who has lived in the same home in Pine Grove Park since 1966, noted the apprehension but is grateful for the change in community policing.
"Some neighborhoods will always be afraid to talk depending on who lives in the neighborhood," Cox said. "But it's helping some people feeling more comfortable because they feel like they [police] care."
Hattaway said his goal is to overcome the apprehension.
"The more that we do it, the less apprehensive they are," Hattaway said. "Being seen a lot so they know we're not snooping through their garbage."
Cocoa police created a video that shows exactly what "park, walk, talk" is. Watch the video below.
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