More work remains in reorganizing the Akron Police Department, but contract changes overwhelmingly approved last week by the police union advance in important ways the worthy goals of Chief James Nice. The vote gives Nice the flexibility to use the existing force more efficiently, moving toward a crime-fighting strategy that places new emphasis on prevention as opposed to a show of force after the fact.

Under the changes, Nice will create a new anti-violence unit, its more than 40 members drawn from specialty units such as the Street Narcotics Uniform Detail, narcotics, vice and gangs. Under the old contract, the reassignments and reschedulings would not have been possible.

For the most part, the specialty units will remain in operation. All will operate in a unified way, under a captain and the three lieutenants who also will oversee the anti-violence unit. What Nice has in mind for the anti-violence unit is an emphasis on developing intelligence from neighborhood residents and informants, then using the information to stop crimes from happening.

The approach fits with the economic realities facing the city, the department, at about 400 members, likely never to reach the level of 500 officers of a decade ago. The police union continues to see increases in force levels as the answer to the cityís crime issues, a largely unrealistic approach given continuing budget constraints.

The chiefís plan for a more nimble, forward-looking department also fits with other goals, most notably the nuisance initiative announced by Mayor Don Plusquellic in his recent State of the City speech. Under that plan, a police captain and nuisance inspector will be in charge in each of four city sectors, improving accountability and targeting resources to confront problems in specific neighborhoods before deterioration advances.

The anti-violence unit rightly will place strong emphasis on tracking and snuffing out drug activity, a precursor to much of the violent crime in the city. The benefits? Intercepting crime before it happens not only heightens the police departmentís effectiveness. It prevents lives from being lost on the cityís streets.