West Allis — It's 9:30 a.m. on a Wednesday inside George Webb restaurant, and all eyes turn to the entrance.
West Allis police officer Brad Sterling recognizes that he and fellow officer Gary Kubasa are now the center of attention, the killers of breakfast conversations at this downtown West Allis eatery.
Don't worry, he assures the dozen or so people inside. They haven't come because of any reported trouble, but they want to know if there is trouble, at any time.
The visit to George Webb is just a part of the Police Department's plan to build up rapport in the community and make residents feel safe through police presence.
As part of such visits, the police officers check in to see if anyone has any complaints or problems.
At George Webb on this particular morning, the light-hearted complaints voiced drew laughs from the crowd - an elderly man wanted to complain about his wife (who, it should be noted, was sitting across from him), and another patron noted a serious raisin shortage in the oatmeal.
"Everyone here wants smoking back," a waitress tells Sterling and Kubasa, referring to the state smoking ban.
"Unfortunately we can't do anything about that," Sterling responds.
Sterling, Kubasa and Dan DiTorrice - school liaison officers who, during summer months, can do other work - are canvassing the city on foot each day under the hot summer sun.
The walks serve many purposes: to let residents know about crime trends in their area, to hear from residents about trends they see, and to promote police programs.
The response has been great, the officers said. Many people at first are troubled to see police in their neighborhoods, but when told why, say they are happy to see them.
"It's nice to see them walking on the sidewalks," said Shawn Lange, owner of Boz's Sports Bar, 1325 S. 70th St. "That's what it's all about. They're here to serve the community, right? It's good to seem out and about."
On Wednesday, Kubasa and Sterling walked from downtown to the West Allis Towne Center and then back through residential neighborhoods just north of Greenfield Avenue.
Going through the Towne Center parking lot, Sterling checks to see how many vehicles have expensive items left out in plain sight.
Unsurprising to Sterling, he sees laptop computers, purses, prescription drugs and Global Positioning System units. For each owner, he will leave a note on the windshield explaining the risks of a vehicle break-in.
"Let's face it, we all get caught up in our everyday lives," Kubasa said. "We get complacent. … Then, all of a sudden, you come home one day and half your stuff is gone. Someone removed your big-screen TV. It's all because, 'Oh, it will never happen to me, so I didn't lock the back door.'
"It's unfortunate. The feeling of being a victim is you lose that sense of security, that sense of well-being."
The officers walk north on 70th Street, cross the street and turn their focus to an area just north of downtown.
Walking through an alley, Sterling and Kubasa ask a resident if he has noticed any problems of which police should be aware.
"Fingers crossed, there haven't been any problems in this area," responds resident Scott Sampson, of the 1100 block of South 68th Street.
Along the way, police hand out literature about crime prevention. The information includes the department's free home-security program.
Carol Bieber of the 2100 block of South 96th Street had her home undergo a free security evaluation Wednesday. Two officers spent about 20 minutes in her home, checking her doors and windows. They found her front door could use a dead-bolt lock, but otherwise found the home mostly secure.
The program includes free dead-bolt locks, unbreakable glass, bars for basement windows, window pins (to lock windows) and door peepholes for households meeting certain income requirements.
"I've always wanted to have a deadbolt on the front door," Bieber said. "Police were coming down the street and talking about the program, and I thought, 'Ah-ha, here's my chance.' "
Bieber found out about the program when officers canvassed her neighborhood. Like many, she initially thought something was amiss.
"Everyone said, 'Why are cops walking around? Is something wrong?' " she said. "I think (the outreach efforts) are a great idea."
For information about the Police Department's crime prevention
programs, call (414) 302-8050.
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