If Santa Monica residents are beginning to see a recognizable face in uniform in their neighborhood, that’s just what the Santa Monica Police Department is hoping.

After conducting their method of patrolling the city for decades, Santa Monica police initiated a new, redesigned patrol plan Sunday, January 27th.

The new plan divides the areas of patrol into eight separate beats, with an officer known as a “neighborhood resource officer” (NRO) assigned to each beat and serving as a contact between the police department and neighborhood. Police say the plan is aimed at improving the department’s relationship with the community.

“We’re excited about this program,” said Capt. Wendell Shirley, commander of the department’s Office of Operations. “We’re partnering with the community and strengthening our relationship with the community.”

Lt. Clinton Muir, patrol program manager, said the plan takes the department’s method of community-oriented policing to the next level by enhancing the contact with the community.

“We pride ourselves on having a strong relationship with the community and we wanted to take that to the next level,” Muir said.

With the redesigned patrol plan for the city, police are hoping that residents will get to know the officer who is specifically assigned to their neighborhood and look to him as the “link” between them and the department. The neighborhood resource officers, who will serve the role for an extended period, are intended to act as a “small-town sheriff” for their respective beat, by patrolling the neighborhood and familiarizing themselves with the residents they represent, Muir said.

“We want to make sure that the community has a face to the name within their patrolled area,” Muir said of the resource officers.

Residents are still asked to call 9-1-1 for emergencies, but they can get in touch with their neighborhood resource officer for more long-term and chronic concerns, Muir said.

The eight beats in the city include the Pico Neighborhood; Sunset Park and Ocean Park; downtown; the Santa Monica Pier; Santa Monica beach and Palisades Park; and the neighborhood north of Montana Avenue.

In addition to the resource officers, each of the beats also has patrol officers who are initially assigned to the area for a period of six months.

Each of the eight neighborhood resource officers has a direct contact number and has been issued a Blackberry for e-mail. The names and phone numbers of the officers and a map of their specific beats can be found on the Santa Monica Police Department Web site, www.santamonica pd.org/.

While the previous method of patrol had been in effect for decades, police said it didn’t provide the same relationship with a particular officer, as the officers could be assigned to a different beat each time out. When Police Chief Tim Jackman took over last year, he wanted to devise a plan that would cover “every square inch of the city” 24 hours a day, with a name that everyone should know, Muir said.

The proposal received strong support, as one-third of the 65 officers who are assigned to patrol applied to become neighborhood resource officers, he said.

Some of the resource officers selected for the beats already had experience working in that particular section of the city, Muir noted. Officer Francisco Franco is familiar with his beat after serving in the Pico Neighborhood for three years, but he wants to get to know more people who live there.

Franco spent the first few days in his new position like many of the other resource officers — walking the streets and reaching out to the neighbors. A main goal for Franco is to gain the trust of community members and work on curbing gang activity in the Pico Neighborhood.

Franco noted that the department is always looking for ways to improve community service and the restructured patrol plan will do just that.

“This will just enhance our community relations,” Franco said.