The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office beefed up its presence downtown for this week’s First Friday, Augusta’s first since the May 3 Riverwalk attacks.
Deputies patroled Broad Street in cars and on foot and blue lights dotted Augusta’s main strip as traffic law violators were stopped and ticketed, but the show of force was all in the name of creating a safer downtown.
“We’re doing whatever we can to make people feel safe downtown,” Lt. Calvin Chew said. “We can’t prevent every crime from happening, but we can show that we’ll try.”
Among the extra measures taken was the addition of having officers on foot. Officers walking among the crowd gives the sheriff’s office a distinct advantage over strictly using police cruisers, Chewadded.
Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree was one of the footbound officers, wearing a fluorescent yellow shirt as he shook hands with residents.
This week’s event gave the sheriff’s office two unique oppurtunities, Roundtree said.
“We wanted people to know that we are committed to downtown, not just for First Friday,” he said. “We also wanted to debut the high-visibility shirts and see what kind of impact it’s having.”
Roundtree said he is currently working on a plan to have more officers patrol the downtown area, particularly on foot.
“We’re looking at a funding source, and we’re pretty close to getting it,” he said. “We think we can have a continual presence downtown based on the direction we are going. But this is something that was in the works way before the attack.”
For some patrons, the extra muscle was just an added benefit.
Mary Cumber, of Martinez, said she doesn’t worry about her safety despite the recent violence.
The May 3 attack left Wesley Spires, 27, of Edgefield, and Ashley Solesbee, 25, of North Augusta, with facial fractures and head wounds after being robbed and beaten with a metal bat or pipe. Police have since made arrests in the case, but Spires remains hospitalized.
Violence at First Friday became an issue following a July 2012 incident involving a shooting wounding six people following a conflict that authorities later said was likely gang related.
“I’m not afraid daytime or nighttime to come downtown,” Cumber said. “I did notice the police, but when I haven’t noticed them I didn’t care.”
Sara Foshee, of Augusta, has attended First Friday for several years.
“I feel perfectly safe downtown,” she said. “This is a fairly large city, and we’re lucky we don’t have as many incidents as other cities do.”