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Pounding the beat Westerville policeman patrols the old-fashioned way: on foot

By Dean Narciso THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Published: December 22, 2008 Edition: Home Final Section: News Page: 01B

 

Officer Mike Beekman opens the sport-utility vehicle's door, pulls keys from the ignition and jangles them, shaking his head. "I've been known to pick up keys and leave a little note behind," said Beekman, who patrols Uptown Westerville on foot.

When he notices something unusual -- a door ajar, a forgotten set of keys -- or has an odd feeling, he checks it out.

Beekman's beat is in contrast to tricked-out police vehicles and high-tech crime fighting. It's a nostalgic nod to nightsticks and shoe leather.

While his colleagues are cocooned for hours in computer-equipped cruisers, Beekman roams the streets, looking for unlocked doors, parking violators or a handshake from an old friend.

"If the merchants have a problem, they let me know," Beekman said. "They're just a thousand sets of eyes out here for me." If they see trouble, they call his cell phone, one another and 911.

Quaint Uptown Westerville hasn't had many emergencies in the 10 years that Beekman has walked the beat.

He takes some of the credit. The bad guys, he says, know that it's hard to get away and blend in.

"You can't get lost here in the Uptown," Beekman said.

Westerville hired Beekman in 1972 after he had spent four years in the Air Force, which took him to Vietnam with the 445th Airlift Wing. He's since served in the Air Force Reserve.

He originally wanted to be a newspaper reporter, interning briefly at the Columbus Citizen-Journal.

But after he received a criminology degree from Ohio Dominican University, a law-enforcement career followed.

He declined the chance to retire in 1998, even with healthy military and police pensions.

"They're dead within a year," Beekman bluntly said of colleagues who have retired and struggled to stay busy.

"I just could not think of not doing it. I like to see people smile."

Now 60, Beekman walks up and down State Street and its back alleys, leaving a trail of smiles, compliments and safety tips. It helps that he often is accompanied by three greyhounds he has rescued and now calls his companions.

"Since I love animals, and all my merchants love animals, I take them with me. I'm not sure which they love to see more, me or the dogs."

Beekman has arranged with the merchants, and his superiors, to leave the animals in their shops if he is needed in an emergency.

Lt. John Petrozzi calls Beekman "a great ambassador," whom everybody knows.

"I know them all by name. I know most of their children," Beekman said.

"Here, if they move a safe, I know it's gone; they change a store display, I know it's gone. I know their habits."

He was among the first to reach Michael's Pizza when a fire broke out last month. He checked the smoke-filled interior for employees and spent the day controlling traffic and helping the owner.

This month, he saw a man who seemed out of place.

"I've never seen this guy, and he's hanging around a shop that's ready to open and operated by a single female," he recalled.

Beekman followed him several blocks to his car. The man left before Beekman could get a plate number.

"What was he up to and why did he take off so quickly? I don't know."

Besides instinct, Beekman's disarming manner and snappy repartee set him apart.

"Before I say anything, you look exceptionally beautiful today," he says to a receptionist inside the Edward Jones investments office where he briefly pokes his head in.

He passes an employee of the Amish Originals furniture store, asking about her boss: "Is Doug in there today?

"Yes, he is," she replies.

"Good, I've got a warrant for his arrest," he jokes.

David Chapman is relaxing inside DJ's Feed Store.

"What's more public awareness than somebody walking the beat?" said Chapman, the store's newest owner.

Beekman, an associate pastor, preaches at Grace Chapel Community Church in Delaware County.

He keeps his Bible on the console of his van.

"I don't know how anyone could do this job without faith in God," he said. "Every community is about each of us taking care of their brother. It's that Christian concept."

His faith keeps him grounded in ethics as well, he said.

He tells business owners: "I don't want to know what your car looks like -- that's a four-hour parking lot; they know if they hand me a cup of coffee, I hand them $1.75."

Beekman helps merchants with heavy deliveries and acts as a liaison between them and city offices. If merchants have concerns about water, sewer, business signs or parking, he knows whom to call.

"It's nice to have someone other than a phone recording."

dnarciso@dispatch.com


 

 

 

 

 

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