Officer Lou Ferraro has patrolled St. Paul’s East Side for six years.

Although he’s usually busy responding to calls, Ferraro tries to find time to get out of his squad car and talk with residents. That kind of community policing has been a priority for St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith, who is retiring next year.

“We as police officers have to be concerned about the neighborhood and stake a claim in the neighborhood,” Ferraro said.

During a recent ride-along, Ferraro stopped between calls to talk to a retired teacher, who regularly contacts police about crime in his neighborhood. Someone driving a car in Eastview Park had torn up the turf with their tires, he said.

“I thoroughly enjoy working the East Side. … When you do get out of your car and start talking to people, they really appreciate it,” Ferraro said.

Community policing initiatives have become a big part of Smith’s legacy.

During his tenure, the department launched the Safe Summer Nights campaign, where more than 30,000 meals have been served at police barbecues with residents. Smith, along with other partners, established the community ambassadors program in which youth workers intervene with troubled youngsters on St. Paul streets.

Last week, Smith announced that he would retire next year at the end of his six-year term.

Some community policing projects have specifically targeted the East Side, which has had its ups and downs in crime.

On the one hand, out of 11 homicides in St. Paul this year, nine occurred on the East Side. Beginning in late September, five people were fatally shot in rapid succession within a 1.5 square-mile area. Some cases remain unsolved.

On the other hand, the East Side takes in about a third of the city and is often unfairly tagged with St. Paul’s crime problems, when in fact serious crime has dipped on the East Side.

Nevertheless, the violent spike spooked many residents who filled community meetings in the wake of the shootings and looked for answers.

To respond, police reassigned some officers from specialty units to cover “hot spots” — including the East Side.