The Idaho Falls Police Department held its National Night Out events Tuesday, introducing its new neighborhood patrol officers to the communities they will work in.

In Highland Park and Kate Curley Park, the officers mingled with community members, listening to their concerns, excitement and becoming familiar with each other.

The Neighborhood Patrol Officer program is a revival of previous efforts dating back to 1998 to assign officers to specific areas of the city.

Typically officers on patrol drive throughout in the city, depending on where they are most needed. By assigning an officer to a specific neighborhood, however, the hope is they will become more familiar with the needs of the residents, and the residents, in turn, will become more familiar with the officers.

The two neighborhoods were chosen because they have higher than average call volume. Department Spokeswoman Jessica Clements said by assigning an officer to the neighborhoods, they can address specific needs in the area.

Officer Dustin Howell has been with the police department for eight years. He grew up on 8th Street and will be assigned to patrol the numbered streets between Holmes Avenue and the Snake River.

“I think this is a great opportunity to get out of our cars and rub shoulders with people,” Howell said.

Just northeast of where Howell will be working will be Officer Justin Gramm, patrolling along Northgate Mile. Gramm has been with the department for four years.

Both officers said their assigned neighborhoods have the same variety of calls, just in higher volume.

The program is part of a nationwide trend towards community policing, which focuses on building connections between officers and residents. The hope is that those connections will allow for easier communication between the neighborhood and officers, and allow officers to proactively prevent crime rather than wait for it to happen.

The officers also will coordinate with neighborhood watch chapters, Clements said.

“While neighborhood watch programs are intended to be citizen and neighborhood driven, these officers can offer training and advice and act as liaisons between a neighborhood watch and the police department,” Clements wrote in a news release.

Department officials are considering assigning neighborhood officers to other areas in the future but have not settled on a timetable.

Paula Johnson attended the gathering at Kate Curley Park with her family. She also has lived in the neighborhood around Highland Park.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Johnson said.

Reporter Johnathan Hogan can be reached at 208-542-6746.