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Downtown Augusta is safe, community leaders say

PROTECTING CITY'S 'HEARTBEAT'

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 12:00 PM
Last updated Thursday, May 9, 2013 10:25 AM
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Augusta leaders and members of the downtown community concluded at a gathering Wednesday that downtown is safe, but admitted that, unfortunately, perception is reality.

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Former Augusta Commissioner Andy Cheek (second from right) addresses Commissioner Bill Fennoy's comment about the possible installation of security cameras along Riverwalk Augusta to deter crime.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Former Augusta Commissioner Andy Cheek (second from right) addresses Commissioner Bill Fennoy's comment about the possible installation of security cameras along Riverwalk Augusta to deter crime.

Augusta Commission member Corey Johnson said he was “very disturbed” by the events that taken place downtown, but “this is nowhere near as bad as it seems.”

“Let me say this for the record: Downtown is not a dangerous place,” Johnson said. “But these things happen, and it’s unfortunate they happen here.”

Speakers agreed that it’s important now to put a plan in place to protect “Augusta’s heartbeat” from crimes and a bad reputation.

About 50 people gathered on Riverwalk Augusta at a forum organized by the Downtown Augusta Alliance to get ideas on increasing safety after a series of incidents.

Just before midnight on May 2, a Beech Island man was assaulted and robbed as he left the Riverfront Pub, 531 Broad St. Police said he suffered a concussion.

Less than 24 hours later, Wesley Spires, 27, of Edgefield, S.C., and Ashley Solesbee, 25, of North Augusta, were hit with a metal bat or pipe as they sat on a bench on Riverwalk Augusta near the former Fort Discovery.

They suffered facial fractures and head wounds.

Spires remains in critical condition. Solesbee was released Monday from University Hospital.

On Monday, a video surfaced that showed a Broad Street brawl that ended in what sounded like gunfire. Police suspect the brawl occurred April 27.

Despite the cluster of incidents, police and city officials said violent crime downtown is rare.

“Downtown is a safe area,” Commissioner Bill Fennoy said. “I think when incidents like this happen it is sensationalized in the press. We have $50 million to $70 million invested in Reynolds Street. We don’t want the message outside of Augusta to be a message that downtown is not a safe place, a place you can’t bring your family.”

The commission is discussing putting cameras downtown as a deterrent.

Richmond County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton said the sheriff plans to meet with City Administrator Fred Russell to discuss increasing patrols downtown.

Clayton said Russell is trying to find money to do that and to improve lighting.

The sheriff’s office is also planning to increase the presence of its bicycle patrol. The two bike officers patrol downtown during the day, but he hopes to extend it into the night.

In the meantime, the office is trying to shift resources to better cover downtown.

Johnson expressed the importance of reaching out to the city’s youths to show that violent behavior won’t be tolerated.

Former Commissioner Andy Cheek, who was in the crowd, expressed concern about the effectiveness of cameras on the riverwalk, an area with lots of trees.

He said he was also concerned about the length of time it would take to install them.

“We need boots on the ground immediately,” he said.

He presented the idea of putting plain-clothes “invisible” officers on the street.

Fennoy responded by saying he didn’t think it would be a good idea for Sheriff Richard Roundtree to announce his plans publicly.

“I’m quite sure we have a sheriff that will listen to the demands of the people and will address the issues,” he said.

Fennoy said he plans to work with downtown property owners to offer a reward and to have a fundraiser for the victims of last week’s crime.

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ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
8346
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 05/08/13 - 03:35 pm
12
2
Countyman,

That area is not maintained. Lights out, trash cans often overflowing, parking lots full of potholes and deep holes retaining water for days. The landscape is not kept up nor is the painting and other things you would expect. Now, two officers one on a golf cart downtown and one walking and you think that's sufficient? Before consolidation APD had 4 to 6 in that area and we didn't have Riverwalk then. If you want tourists and people to come down there we want it to be safe. We don't want to be forced to walk in the street because 6 to 8 pants draggers are shoving people off the sidewalk. You say there hasn't been a shooting down there since last year! ONE is TOO MANY!! Augusta Mall is going the same way Regency Mall did and if you go in there on a Friday night or Saturday you see it, if you take off your rose colored glasses!

countyman
20243
Points
countyman 05/08/13 - 04:07 pm
2
10
Coldbeer. How come you don't

Coldbeer. How come you don't consider the shootings and homicides in other places one too many?

How can people act like two violent crimes, and one fight is worse than two cops being murdered and the other getting seriously injured in Aiken? When Richmond County is much larger than Aiken, and attracts more people from the surrounding areas(jobs, shopping, entertainment, etc).

This is the only problem I have with the comments. People always want to point the finger, but forget three more are pointing back at you.

The Augusta mall probably does have some teenagers walking around on Friday/Saturday nights similar to the Regency mall, but it doesn't have the same problems. The Augusta mall wouldn't be able to attract PF Changs, Apple, Sephora, Jared Galleria, Pandora, Chop House, etc if they had the same problems as Regency. None of the stores and restaurants have locations in Georgia outside of metro Atlanta and the Augusta mall.

How can you accuse me of having on rose colored glasses, but the Chronicle had a story on the crime at shopping areas in Augusta over an one year period.

''At Augusta Mall, however, shoplifting is the highest incident of crime, followed by property theft. Peebles said places that draw a lot of people usually have crime. He said incidents in these entertainment and shopping areas get more media attention, which causes a false perception of high crime.''
http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2011-07-17/crowded-areas-...

I'm glad to see Peebles agrees with me in terms of the sensationalism when it comes to reporting crime in certain parts of the CSRA.

Riverman1
84926
Points
Riverman1 05/08/13 - 04:29 pm
9
2
Five Murders Downtown Last Year

Thanks to Gage Creed on another thread for listing the murders in downtown Augusta LAST YEAR. There were FIVE.

On the subject of cameras, they would serve two uses, prevention and an aid to help law enforcement to respond. That would help. But also keep in mind, my suggestion the Marriott should furnish at least two officers for the Riverwalk 24 hours a day.

GnipGnop
12317
Points
GnipGnop 05/08/13 - 04:44 pm
8
1
So?

I am a tax payer. I frequent Augusta and have family there. I have earned the right to complain. 30 years of property taxes gives me that right. How many years have you lived off the tax paying property owners? I see you always want money spent in your beloved CBD and talk about the great value of property there. To bad they don't have to pay the same tax rate as the rest of Atttugusta's taxpayers. Consolidation was and will continue to be a scam to taxpayers in the county tgat subsidize your CBD.

DawgnSC69
271
Points
DawgnSC69 05/08/13 - 04:55 pm
9
1
Keep drinking the koolaid

Keep drinking the koolaid countyman. What’s it going to take to be "bad enough" to be labeled a dangerous place? 2 serious incidents? 3? 10? 50?
Stop trying to compare downtown Augusta to other parts of the CSRA and other cities and face the reality. It’s Thugville down there.

countyman
20243
Points
countyman 05/08/13 - 05:36 pm
2
8
Facts

The last homicide in the CBD was in September of 2010. NONE of those five murders last year happen in the Central Business District. I have no problem if you want to call the surrounding areas downtown, but I'm talking specifically about the CBD. We already know Waters Edge is definitely safe, and the neighborhood Olde Town is next up. Then you have both Harrisburg and Laney Walker still going through major transitions. The 15th street area near Cherry Tree/Sunset/Josey, Turpin Hill, East Augusta, etc all still have major problems.

Even if you don't include the homicide at the plant or the one at the Belair conference center(could be Grovetown(not city though) or Martinez). There's still the homicide that happen in 2/2012 compared to the ZERO in the CBD since 2011.
http://chronicle.augusta.com/data/homicides?appSession=639255167010860

DawgnSC69.. How can you explain this? Zero homicides in over two years, the last shooting in July of 2012, and a very low number of violent crimes.

The facts are since 2011 Martinez, Harlem, and Grovetown in Columbia County have more murders than the Central Business District.

The facts are since 2011 Wagner, Aiken, North Augusta, Clearwater, Warrenville, Salley, New Ellenton, and Windsor in Aiken County have more homicides than the Central Business District.
http://chronicle.augusta.com/data/homicides?appSession=576255165420318

Can you please remind me again why I can't compare the CBD against other areas in the CSRA? Do you want me to compare the real estate prices next?

rmwhitley
5547
Points
rmwhitley 05/08/13 - 05:22 pm
0
0
Talk
Unpublished

is CHEAP.

christyanne76
44
Points
christyanne76 05/08/13 - 06:13 pm
6
2
I'd gladly walk that stretch

I'd gladly walk that stretch of road between Shenandoah Ridge and Wedgewood any time over downtown Augusta. Has crime increased a good deal in that area? yes. Violent crime in which someone is physically hurt...and to the degree of what's occurred downtown in the last week or so? Not so much. In fact, probably not at all. I live right off the Pass so I'm familiar with that area. The entire point of the matter at hand is, regardless of past statistics, right NOW there is a problem in downtown Augusta and it needs to be addressed, not swept under a rug or denied by commissioners. The violence is growing worse and needs to be quashed. What happened to all the police officers on bikes that used to ride around the River Walk? At least if there were more of a police presence, people would be more likely to feel they couldn't get away with such foolishness.

AutumnLeaves
8069
Points
AutumnLeaves 05/08/13 - 06:48 pm
8
1
Why?

Why am I concerned? Because my daughter came home on spring break and she and her new boyfriend walked along the canal, the Savannah River, Riverwalk, and I was concerned for their safety BEFORE this happened, because it is not the first time people have been assaulted and/or robbed on Riverwalk. It was just after dark when they were at Riverwalk, not late, she called me from there and I expressed my concern, to be aware of their surroundings and not linger. Why? Because each of my neighbors in 30906 has been broken into recently. Why? Because 4 men allegedly broke into a home with 2 women and a handful of children YESTERDAY on the south side of Augusta, too. Why? Because a man was shot INSIDE his house off Meadowbrook Drive the day before. And that's just what I can think of off the top of my head. Which I might not have long, since I feel like my blood pressue is about to go through the roof when anyone DISCOUNTS the crime problem. Why do I care? because I LIVE here. I care about the other cities, too, but where my family and friends are, that is where I HOPE to make a difference!

Riverman1
84926
Points
Riverman1 05/08/13 - 06:55 pm
6
2
Article is About "Downtown" Augusta

Please note the article is about "downtown" Augusta, not some nebulous central business district.

GnipGnop
12317
Points
GnipGnop 05/08/13 - 07:01 pm
8
1
For that matter....

I could say no homicides occurred in the SANILI district for 30 years (that's an acronym for South Augusta Neighborhood I Lived In) google it cause you know if it's on the internet it has to be true...SMH

dstewartsr
20389
Points
dstewartsr 05/08/13 - 07:21 pm
7
1
Boston93
117
Points
Boston93 05/08/13 - 08:30 pm
3
1
Broad Street Safety Problems.

I would recommend that the department house four policemen in a loft apartment facing Broad Street. 2 on one side/2 on the other side and from 13th to 5th. Then 2 in Old Towne with one on each side. They should be plain clothesmen and not have a police department vehicle. Keep eyes open and ears open and communication close by. Will need to survey late evening and up to and after midnight to see some of the things that are happening. Loud motorcycles up/down late evening and night clubs that bring out the bands/booze/customers on tothe sidewalk and even into the street. Burgarly/pot heads/etc. in Olde Towne. I can assure you that it happens and that is why I wouldn't even consider hanging out late afternoons/evenings down town.

Gage Creed
17380
Points
Gage Creed 05/08/13 - 08:46 pm
6
2
Countyman keeps spouting the

Countyman keeps spouting the same BS...here is another link that dispels his bunk

http://chronicle.augusta.com/data/homicides

View the map yourself... I guess in countyman's eyes some people don't count as that would not agree with his "STATISTICS"

So countyman, you are now saying 444 Broad St is not in the CBD? That would seem to conflict with your smug google maps posting...

countyman
20243
Points
countyman 05/08/13 - 10:35 pm
2
6
I do apologize, because I

I do apologize, because I forgot about the homeless guy who got killed in 2012... That's still only one homicide downtown since the year 2011.

The Central Businesss District is the real 'downtown'.... How can the CBD be considered nebulous, but has it own distinct boundaries?

I find it hilarious somebody is accusing me of quote 'BS', but according to Riverman said there were five homicides downtown in 2012. I think everybody can see the discussion ia about the CBD, and not Laney Walker, East Augusta, etc.

I'll admit I was wrong, because I forgot about the homeless person. One homicide in the CBD is still lower than the majority of areas in the CSRA since 2011.

WTFH
94
Points
WTFH 05/08/13 - 10:16 pm
8
2
Crime

I live two blocks from Broad St in downtown Augusta. Three weeks ago I made two phone calls to the Sheriff's Dept regarding some sort of drug deal/prostitution on Reynolds. I watched outside my window at 2 am for three hours...no police car. I saw at least five African American girls walking up and down Telfair near the new library. They were being picked up left and right. I also saw their "pimp" driving back and forth checking on them. This was like reality tv...crazy that nothing was being done about it.

WTFH
94
Points
WTFH 05/08/13 - 10:24 pm
0
5
Also, who walks on The

Also, who walks on The Riverwalk past 11 pm anyways. Not saying they deserved it, but man that's brave. Also to be sitting at the end of Riverwalk behind the abandoned Fort Discovery building. All of these problems are happening really late at night...just put more officers from 11pm-2am or close the bars earlier to clean up the mess...ouch, I know, I know...not a good idea.

Casting_Fool
1151
Points
Casting_Fool 05/08/13 - 10:39 pm
7
2
Cameras won't stop the

Cameras won't stop the assaults. They only allow law enforcement an opportunity to identify the suspects.

Cameras didn't prevent the Boston bombing. Cameras didn't protect the victims from death and injuries. A heavy LEO presence, and ordinary people paying attention to their surroundings might have kept it from being such a tragedy.

In this day and age, someone leaving a bag or backpack behind should set off all sorts of alarm bells in people nearby. Heck, I call it in when someone leaves a cargo truck in an odd place.

Cameras, like gun control, are a panacea to the public. "Oh look, we're perfectly safe because so and so told us that this will make us safe." Right. Gotta bridge to sell you if you believe that.

I legally carry a weapon, and I pay attention to my surroundings and the people in it. Nobody in their right mind should be in downtown after dark. Maybe someday when there's an active LEO presence there, but not before then.

GiantsAllDay
9695
Points
GiantsAllDay 05/09/13 - 12:35 am
6
3
Downtown is safe The great Oz

Downtown is safe
The great Oz has spoken
Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain
All of you can go back to your normal affairs now

countyman
20243
Points
countyman 05/09/13 - 01:08 am
2
6
Haven't thousands of the

Haven't thousands of the residents at the Marriott walked around at night for decades now?

I guess none of them are in the right mind. The same must go for the people attending the Candlelight Jazz Series every Sunday night, and the visitors at the TEE Center.

The funny this is the majority of these people haven't been downtown in a long time, but not about the crime rate.

Casting_Fool
1151
Points
Casting_Fool 05/09/13 - 02:06 am
4
1
If thousands of people play

If thousands of people play safely downtown after dark, fine. I just don't want my loved ones or myself to be the two out of those thousands who lose out and get nearly beaten to death by two thugs. Augusta needs to beef up it's LEO presence in order to make downtown safe for everybody at night.

Cameras are less of a deterrent than the physical presence of LEO's. And an LEO can actually intervene, whereas a camera can only record. Even if there was a rapid deployment force to respond to a recorded incident, they would only get there after it was already in progress.

IMO, it's not acceptable to allow for a few victims of crime, in order to declare downtown safe for everyone after dark. IMO, it's not safe until everyone can enjoy it without harm.

Riverman1
84926
Points
Riverman1 05/09/13 - 03:49 am
6
2
Straw Man

This article uses the term "downtown" in the heading and numerous comments are made concerning downtown. No where in the article is the term "central business district" used. There is a straw man in the county.

Riverman1
84926
Points
Riverman1 05/09/13 - 04:42 am
7
2
Incredible Contrasts

Augusta is this place of incredible contrasts of wealth and poverty with grandiose affluence on the same plate with some of the most grinding poverty in America dripping over in an unpalatable mix. The average income level of the city is low, but that’s even more striking when you consider the income disparity and the large number of wealthy residents. A realist would see there are two Augusta’s.

The paths of someone on the Hill or a member at the National and someone in East Augusta are as likely to pass in a friendly way as a Pacific Islander meeting a Gobi Desert dweller.

Nope, I don’t have solutions, but we’ll work more resourcefully to find answers if we recognize the truths.

Brad Owens
4583
Points
Brad Owens 05/09/13 - 06:09 am
6
0
Effective Propaganda?

I think the Sheriff will listen if folks talk to him.

The damage has been done and no amount of public rally's to say it is safe will change the perception of downtown that those powerful images and ultra-violent attacks have created (once again) in the public's eyes.

We need action not words. Want t impress me? Don't hold this rally on a beautiful morning on the Riverwalk with plenty of uniformed officers in tye background, hold it at 12 midnight on the 900 block of Broad Street next First Friday, then lets see how the backdrop helps support the message of "It's safe and your're safe here"

ACTION, not words please.

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
8346
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 05/09/13 - 06:32 am
4
1
Private Company paying for Deputies

Why is a private company paying for something that the people of ARC are already paying for? Sounds like someone should learn how to use manpower more effectively! They want businesses downtown to pay for deputies to police downtown? I didn't know government agencies used mob tactics!

Bodhisattva
6307
Points
Bodhisattva 05/09/13 - 06:54 am
3
1
Safe?

$10 to the first one that sits alone on a park bench on Riverwalk overnight.

CobaltGeorge
160946
Points
CobaltGeorge 05/09/13 - 07:12 am
2
2
YOU

sure don't put much value on a human life, do you?

CobaltGeorge
160946
Points
CobaltGeorge 05/09/13 - 07:16 am
4
1
NOW

for a $1000.00 dollars, I'll dress up as a business man in a nice suit, lay down on a bench looking like I had too much to drink......and wait!

...point to ponder
755
Points
...point to ponder 05/09/13 - 07:22 am
5
2
I agree with Brad...

Time for action now. ...no more words....
The tens of millions invested in our downtown to attract visitors and locals alike is going to go down the drain due to POOR planning and having a county commission that really never gave a dam about our CBD and never understood its importance. And it starts at the top....from the Mayor down... that exhibit a total lack of leadership and understanding. (I apologize for the rant... )

bigj706
1192
Points
bigj706 05/09/13 - 07:28 am
3
1
Good point Brad. The crime

Good point Brad. The crime has already been committed no talking about past no crimes or new supposed buildings are going to make people at ease. I just want more done to prevent it not just talk me off
about the glory days. I don't care what other areas have crime because when my family visit they are not walking the streets of Grovetown or Martinez as a tourist spot they would like the Riverwalk. Crime can happen in your own home but we are not talking about that nobody is coming to Augusta to hang at a gas station or some subsection or even my house.

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