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Tourist Unit’s Goal: Keep Anaheim America’s Safest City to Visit

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Anaheim is home to the biggest convention center on the west coast and Disneyland – one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations.

The TOP Team: Sgt. Tim Schmidt, Det. Rebecca Gershenoff, Det. Rafael Martins and Det. Dave Wiggins.

“Tourism is big business here,” says Anaheim Police Det. Dave Wiggins.

More than 45 million people visit the city every year, and they spend enough on hotel rooms to generate $83.5 million in bed tax revenue alone.

With all those visitors and dollars at stake, there’s significant pressure to maintain and enhance Anaheim’s reputation as a safe place to vacation and host conventions.

Enter the Tourist-Oriented Policing unit. The team, which includes Sgt. Tim Schmidt, Wiggins and Dets. Rebecca Gershenoff and Rafael Martins, works with hotel managers, resort operators and other stakeholders to prevent and solve crime.

The results?

The TOP team is a national model honored by prestigious university criminal justice programs. The FBI recently reported that Anaheim is America’s safest city to visit (with 250,000-500,000 residents).  And that’s not all.

“This program has provided us with a great sales tool in our convention and leisure marketing efforts promoting the Anaheim area,” said Charles Ahlers, president, Anaheim-Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

To read the rest of an interview with members of the TOP team, click here.

To Discourage Crime at Major Events ‘Show All Your Resources’

Some big cities discourage heavy police visibility at major events.

Not Anaheim.

Guests at baseball and hockey playoff games, major concerts, mixed-martial arts competitions and week-long conventions will see officers on horseback, in motorized carts, wearing SWAT gear and walking with police dogs.

Mounted Patrol

APD believes high visibility at major events deters crime. Click on the photo to read a recent OC Register story about its crime prevention efforts.

“We bring out all our bells and whistles,” said Anaheim Police Sgt. Tim Schmidt, presenting Tuesday at the 20th annual International Problem-Oriented Policing Conference at Disneyland Hotel.

He advised about 100 police officials from around the globe “to show all your resources” at major events.  “(Bad guys) are going to show up, see it and think, ‘Man, there are lot of cops here.’

Schmidt oversees Anaheim PD’s Tourism Oriented Policing (TOP) team – one of few visitor-focused units in the nation. The TOP team is dedicated to working with hotel owners, visitors bureaus, resorts and others to minimize safety and security issues.

The team is one reason Anaheim is the FBI’s safest city to visit among 35 U.S. cities with 250,000-300,000 residents.

Providing a safe environment in an area visited by millions can be challenging, noted APD Det. Dave Wiggins. Each day, the complexion of the area changes.

In January, the medical design industry held a conference at the Anaheim Convention Center. The next week it was an arts and crafts conference. Then, the international music products industry came to town.

“Can we police all three of these groups the same way?” he asked. “Each one wants a different style.”

APD has a substation at Downtown Disney. The team meets monthly with hotel owners. It routinely shares crime information with hotels and attractions through a Crime Alert Network. Its focus is long-term.

Some cities want “to keep security out of view,” he said. “We use it as a marketing tool.”

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Also Tuesday, University of Wisconsin professor Herman Goldstein, credited for developing the Problem-Oriented Policing model 30 years ago, discussed the approach’s benefits with several law enforcement officials.

Goldstein Welter

Chief Welter and Problem-Oriented Policing innovator Herman Goldstein

“If you use creative measures to solve problems, more people are going to respect you,” he said.

As an example, he discussed a recent case of appliance thefts from new homes in South Carolina.

Instead of relying on traditional detective methods to apprehend the thieves, police identified the root cause; builders were installing appliances before the homes were occupied.

Police worked with builders to delay installation. The problem was solved.

A more recent example where problem-oriented techniques should be applied, he said, involves the growing issue of texting while driving.

“What’s the solution?” he asked. “Passing a statute?”

A better solution, he suggested, would be to work with cell phone technologists to develop software that disables texting while in a car.

He acknowledged that it can be challenging to overcome traditional ways of thinking in police departments.

His advice: When an officer or officers work with the community to solve problems, “publicize it and reward them.”