By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - One of the first things rookie Kansas City police officer John King did on the job was get a pair of tennis shoes - and not so he could chase crooks.
Comfortable shoes make sense for King since he now spends his eight-hour shift walking one of Kansas City's high-crime areas in a law enforcement throwback known as the foot patrol.
Police started the patrols as an experiment on August 1. It has been quietly addressing crime in four of the city's toughest neighborhoods at a time when most of the community has become focused on controlling youth violence from so-called flash mobs.
Three teenagers were hurt by apparently random gunfire in a large late-night "flash mob" on August 13 in the upscale Country Club Plaza shopping and restaurant district, prompting the city council to slap a curfew for people under age 18.
In the neighborhoods, Kansas City's foot patrol is patterned after one in Philadelphia, also a city where flash mobs have local residents in recent months.
King, 23, and partner Vito Mazzara, 24, believe their walks along Independence Avenue in east Kansas City have pushed many drug dealers, prostitutes and other criminals off streets and sidewalks where they operated openly.
King pointed to the side of a building adjacent to a convenience store parking lot, which he said has been the scene of shootings, drug deals and other crime.
"There were usually people lined up along that wall, now there are none," King said.
The two officers say they have not only prevented crime but interrupted it. They have caught burglars, robbers and other criminals in the act.
King and Mazzara are among 17 new Kansas City officers on foot patrol duty for 90 days, working day and night shifts.
On foot, they develop personal contact skills that would take a lot longer in a squad car, said Major Roger Lewis, who oversees the program.
King and Mazzara said they stop in every business each day in their 15-block territory. Citizens honk, wave or say hello, developing a rapport that police hope will help overcome public reluctance to report crimes.
"It's great to see them around and we want to do all we can to support them," said Dan Smith, who is preparing to open a coffee shop on Independence Avenue.
King and Mazzara give out their cellphone numbers. Mazzara hands out a business card. It has no fancy job description, just "Footbeat."
The foot patrol program lasts until October 31. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City are studying crime data in foot patrol and surrounding areas to measure the possible effect on crime. That study will help determine if the program is resumed, Lewis said.
In Philadelphia, a Temple University study in 2009 found that neighborhoods with foot patrols saw violent crime drop 23 percent and drug incident detections rise 15 percent over a three-month test period.
Philadelphia Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel said some crime is displaced to other neighborhoods but that the foot patrol reduces crime overall. The city assigns about 130 new officers at a time to foot patrol duty, Bethel said.
Foot patrols have long been employed in downtowns of large cities, but Kansas City and Philadelphia are unusual because they are using it day and night in targeted outlying areas plagued by crime, Bethel said.
"It's not the old school foot beats, it's much more strategic," Bethel said.
Foot patrols have proven to make criminals uneasy, Bethel said, because "they never know when an officer might be a block away or coming around the corner."
(Writing and reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Peter Bohan)