Medford police Officer Dan Ashworth enjoys working a portion of his beat on shoe leather rather than inside a 2-ton rolling cage.

Medford police Officer Dan Ashworth enjoys working a portion of his beat on shoe leather rather than inside a 2-ton rolling cage.

Ashworth is assigned to downtown Medford, one of the department's busiest beats.

He arrests his fair share of trespassers, thieves and drunken drivers, but among his responsibilities is climbing out of a patrol car and chatting it up with downtown business owners and their customers.

"I'm a pretty social person, so I like getting out and just talking to people," Ashworth said.

Medford police Chief Tim George sees Ashworth's downtown beat, which he began six months ago, as vital to connecting with the community on a more intimate basis.

"We want the public to be comfortable seeing our officers around town," George said. "Ashworth's job is an important part of what we do in the downtown area."

The goal is to hear concerns from business owners and people who live and work downtown.

Ashworth said the department is backing the city's push to revitalize downtown, where several storefronts remain empty as the area slowly claws back from the recession.

"We want to see people back doing business and feeling safe downtown," Ashworth said.

On Friday, Ashworth parks along East Main Street and visits a group of stores, restaurants and salons near Hawthorne Park.

When Ashworth enters Salon Muse, the owners give him a warm greeting as if he were a regular customer.

"It's nice to know he's supporting us as business owners," said owner Adam Boyd.

Boyd said a lot of the time he and Ashworth just shoot the breeze for a while, the topic rarely turning to police and crime matters.

"He asks about how business is doing, things like that," Boyd said.

However, salon co-owner Krista Boyd said having a regular visit from a police officer has made her feel safer.

"We had a suspicious-looking guy hanging around and we didn't know what to do about it," she said. "We didn't know if he was dangerous or not, so we asked (Ashworth) what should we do."

Transients loitering near businesses is a common concern among owners, as are drunken drivers and parking issues, Ashworth said.

Ashworth said some business owners are apprehensive at first when a police officer walks in the door.

"They are wondering if someone is in trouble or if something's wrong," Ashworth said. "But I just introduce myself and leave my card and tell them to call anytime if they have an issue."

Ashworth likes the "old school" aspect of an officer walking his beat.

"I think I've been in places where police haven't been in several years," he said.

Of course, when 9-1-1 calls come flooding in, Ashworth has to roll across town in his patrol car.

"We have a high call load and I have to take my calls as they come in," he said. "But when it slows down, I try to visit some businesses downtown."

Adam Boyd said Ashworth's presence downtown is a good pubic relations move for the department.

"It puts a new face on the Medford police," he said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email