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By Devin Rose
People tend to notice Oak Park Police Officer Ed Hadac, who works the Oak Park Avenue business district. He's 6 feet, 5 inches tall, and can often be seen traveling down the street at 12 miles per hour on a segway.
"It's a nice attention-grabber," said Hadac, who has been with the department for 30 years. "It almost opens doors to let you talk to people."
Hadac is one of a few business beat officers who monitor activity in the village's business districts. The concept is similar to the department's resident beat officer program, which splits the village into eight sections and puts an officer who lives there in charge of patrolling each one.
Hadac compared the approach to public relations. It allows him to get to know his area and develop friendships with many of the owners on his route. They can even call his cellphone specifically if they have an issue.
"Just the mere presence of a police officer, that tends to prevent crime right there," Hadac said about being seen walking or riding the segway around his beat — on Lake Street from Kenilworth to Euclid avenues and on Oak Park Avenue from Ontario to Pleasant streets.
Proprietors can call him to do a walk-through of their businesses if a patron is acting suspiciously or someone comes in who has stolen from the business before. He may not even know who the suspicious person is, but Hadac believes it deters crime because they know who he is.
If there is a theft or similar issue, he'll make sure to come back to the affected store and follow-up with the owner later. If one store gets counterfeit money, he'll warn others in the area or provide prevention tips. Hadac said he's also helped lost tourists who are trying to find the Hemingway or Frank Lloyd Wright landmarks in the village.
Hadac says being on foot or on the segway makes him much more approachable than being in the squad car, where his face might be barely visible.
"It's old-time policing," he said.
And the segway that some of the officers have at their disposal lets them move more quickly than walking and more quietly than in a squad car.
Jim August, owner of the Irish Shop at 100 N. Oak Park Ave., said it would be a detriment not to have an officer that he and others in the area can rely on. There have been a few business beat officers he's gotten to know in the store's 21 years.
"It's nice to have someone you know walking around, that you speak to and see every day," instead of an anonymous person at the other end of the phone line, August said.
Officer Holly Smith works the beat at Lake and Marion streets. She finds the business beat method effective because owners will tell her what they'd like to see in the neighborhood.
"I think people tend to open up to you more and let you know what they need," she said.
Like Hadac, Smith deals with some aggressive panhandlers and crowds of kids clogging the sidewalk. But she agrees that the recognition does help deter certain behavior.