"The point of the program is not to have an officer indefinitely assigned to a neighborhood, but rather to get the neighborhood to a point where they don't need the officer there," Harman said.
There are also the small but significant gestures that they do that win over a community: fixing a bike, getting someone to repair a backed-up sink, giving someone a break.
Alexandria police officer Francesca Evans drives through the Andrew Adkins project where she lives and patrols as part of the city's residential policing program.
(Photos Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
"That makes a big difference," said Sgt. Jose Garcia, another supervisor for the Alexandria program. "It's little things like that they never forget."
So far, the residential policing program appears to be a success, city officials said.
"It works for us. We're urban, we have urban issues, but at the same time, it's a small town. People know each other and each other's business," said Amy Bertsch, spokeswoman for the Alexandria Police Department. "Having an officer in the community is critical."
Statistics show crime has dropped in areas where officers have moved in. Since the program's inception, violent crime in communities with residential police officers has decreased by 52.2 percent, said Mary Garrand, supervising crime analyst with the department. Property crimes have dropped by 33.8 percent, and most nuisance crimes decreased by 14.4 percent. Drug offenses had the largest decrease: 60.3 percent. Liquor law violations, including drunkenness and disorderly conduct, rose slightly, but officials attribute this tougher enforcement to the residential officers' presence.
The residential officers, who do not pay rent, do take certain safety precautions in their homes. Bertsch said there has been only one serious incident involving a residential police officer -- the officer's patrol car and personal vehicle were set on fire two years ago at Crestview Commons in West End. The officer was transferred, she said.
In order for the officers to be effective, they have to gain residents' trust. Officer Gerald Ford, 35, has been living at the James Bland homes in North Side for six years -- the longest of any of the residential police officers. From the beginning, Ford showed his neighbors that although he was a police officer, he was going to be upfront with them.
"I made it quite clear that if they didn't break the rules or do anything wrong, there would be no problems," he said. "I was always straightforward, and people knew I was going to be fair about things." And if they did break the law, Ford would tell them, "it's not personal, it's business."
Residents were also willing to help Ford. He recalled an incident that occurred shortly after he moved in. A man knocked on his door looking for two "dubs" -- street slang for crack.
"I told him to have a seat, I'd be right back," Ford recalled.
Ford returned to the door with his badge, gun and handcuffs and arrested the man, who broke down in tears. It was clear that residents had sent the drug user to Ford's door, he said.
Andrew Adkins residents still speak with great affection of Evans's predecessor, Jim Klock, who left in January.
"Wait, wait, I want to show you something," Mary Williams, 40, said during one of Evans's recent patrols. She ran into the house and returned with two autographed studio head shots of Klock -- pictures that adorn many residents' homes. Klock, 28, left the force briefly for a stint in Hollywood, where he landed a small role on the soap opera "Passions," which became "must-see TV" at the housing complex. He is now a detective with the Stafford County Sheriff's Office.