A Dayton police vehicle was parked at Courthouse Square in downtown Dayton on Wednesday. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Downtown Dayton residents report feeling safer

Technique using cruise lights lets residents know police officers are available.

Dayton residents report they feel safer in downtown, and some think increased police visibility may have played a big role.

Dayton officers in the Oregon District and downtown now turn on their “cruise lights” while on patrol or parked.

Cruise lights are steady, non-flashing blue and red lights that are part of the light bars on top of police vehicles.

Using cruise lights, police vehicles are much more noticeable and can be seen at a distance, providing a stronger sense of security, Dayton police have said.

“Turning on the cruise lights did exactly what we wanted: it allows people to see us easier and know we are there,” Dayton police Lt. James Mullins, with the Central Patrol Operations District. “It had immediate positive results with the citizens we serve.”

Some people say the enhanced visibility is comforting and appreciated after a deadly mass shooting in the Oregon District in August that shocked the community and left many people feeling anxious and some traumatized.

MORE: Oregon District survivor now battling PTSD

The share of Dayton residents who say they feel very safe downtown at night increased this year to 39%, up from 32% in 2018, according to a citywide survey that was conducted between May 11 to July 19.

Overall, about 51% of residents this year said they feel somewhat or very safe downtown after the sun goes down, which is up 5 percentage points from last year.

During the day, about 82% of residents say they feel very or somewhat safe downtown, which is a 3-percentage point jump from 2018.

However, the timing of the survey is relevant, because it occurred before the Aug. 4 mass shooting in the Oregon District that left 10 people dead. It’s unclear if and how much the shooting would have impacted respondents’ answers about safety.

MORE: Late night in the Oregon District: Will people feel safe?

But long before the tragic shooting, some citizens told the city they were not seeing police officers downtown as frequently as they would in the Oregon District.

Officials found this odd because the district generally has a strong police presence.

Around March, police decided to start activating their cruise lights while in the district to increase visibility.

At first, some people were confused by the red and blue lights. Some motorists thought they were being pulled over.

But people adapted and the lights are working, Lt. Mullins said.

Beginning in June, police working downtown also started turning on their cruise lights while stopped, parked or driving around, which also received a warm reception from the public, police officials say.

“People love the cruise lights on because they can see us and know we are around,” Mullins said.

Police departments in other communities have used cruise lights to help citizens easily locate an officer when they need assistance and improve visibility.

Activating cruise lights was a simple step to take, but it has seemed to make a difference to help people feel safer in the Oregon District, said Kyle Babirad, president of the Oregon District Business Association.

“I think people like it because it makes it more obvious that there is a cruise there,” he said.

The Oregon District has a fairly heavy and visible police presence on weekend nights, Babirad said, and the cruise lights might actually have more of an impact during less busy times, such as the daytime hours or weekday nights, when fewer people are out and it can be comforting to see police nearby.

To improve people’s sense of safety, the solution does not necessarily have to be adding officers, but instead using the existing police resources thoughtfully and strategically, Babirad said.

“They have a lot of officers here, and we’re just trying to help them become as effective as possible, so we have community solutions,” he said.

New development in the neighborhood also has filled vacant buildings, increasing foot traffic and activity, which improves feelings of safety and security, he said.

By far, people who live in the downtown area are most likely to feel safe in their neighborhoods and believe police staffing levels are adequate.

Almost 74% of residents in greater downtown agree or strongly agree that the law enforcement presence in their neighborhood meets the need, according to data from the citywide survey released this week.

Less than 56% of residents in northwest, northeast and southeast areas feel the same way.

And residents in western parts of the city have the lowest levels of satisfaction in this respect: Less than 39% agree that the police resources committed to their neighborhoods are sufficient.

It’s impossible to know how different the survey results would be if it was conducted after the Oregon District mass shooting.

But people hope that the shooting has not forever changed how people view and feel about the district.

City officials have been quick to point out that downtown and the Oregon District are the safest parts of the city and most crime in the district is nonviolent property crime.

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