Task force plans more police presence, better vendor control for First Friday

More police officers will patrol Broad Street on Friday night during and after the monthly First Friday festival.

The increase in security is part of an action plan developed in response to a July 6 shooting that wounded six people after the official event concluded.

A task force that included the Greater Augusta Arts Council, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, downtown stakeholders and city leaders met for several weeks before presenting the plan to the public at a meeting Wednesday night attended by about 25 people.

Sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay said people should expect a larger police presence than at previous First Fridays that will aggressively enforce laws, including the midnight curfew for those 18 and younger.

“Make no mistake about it. Downtown Augusta is not a place to come and violate the law. We will address each and every activity,” Gay said.

He also urged parents not to drop off children on Broad Street and leave them unsupervised.

Gay would not disclose the number of police officers who will be downtown Friday but said they will be within sight of one another and on the streets “way into the morning hours.”

In response to a question about loitering laws, Gay said crowds of young people walking Broad Street are difficult for police to address.

“Just as you have a right to walk down the sidewalk, they have the right to walk down the sidewalk. Now, when they start becoming a problem, we can enforce the violation, whatever that might be,” he said.

Brenda Durant, the executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council, said the sheriff’s department, the city’s licensing and inspection department and the arts council, which holds the event from 5 to 9:30 p.m., will meet at 4:45 p.m. on Broad Street to review plans for the night.

For the first time, the arts council will track what vendors, nonprofit organizations, artists and musicians receive vendor passes, Durant said.

The city’s license and inspection department will control unsanctioned vendors that assemble up and down Broad Street past the event’s official end, she said.

Four Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative employees will be present, said Margaret Woodard, the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. At 9:30 p.m., the initiative will begin cleaning trash from sidewalks and helping the arts council with closing the event; it will stay until 11:30 p.m.

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