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New Safety Management and Response Team Unit making a presence in downtown Augusta

Saturday, July 12, 2014 4:53 PM
Last updated Sunday, July 13, 2014 1:31 AM
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It’s been a successful first month for a highly visible team of officers in downtown Augusta.

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Richmond County Sheriff's Office Deputy William Mundy, left, and Deputy Josh Anderson talk on Broad Street.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Richmond County Sheriff's Office Deputy William Mundy, left, and Deputy Josh Anderson talk on Broad Street.

The new Safety Manage­ment and Response Team (SMART) Unit made up of community safety officers and sheriff’s deputies officially hit the street in late May with the hopes of creating a safer environment downtown.

“I think it’s good,” said Co­co Rubio, who owns two downtown music venues, Sky City and The Soul Bar. “It’s something we needed down here and should have had down here.”

In the unit’s first month, it issued 44 citations for disorderly conduct, which includes panhandling. Stati­stics from the first month also show overall crime in the downtown business district down 33 percent and violent crimes down 86 percent. Non-residential burglaries dropped to zero from four the previous month.

“I think the presence alone provides deterrents to people who would want to cause problems,” said Kim­ber­ly Beasley, who owns Cur­vitude Boutique at 908 Broad St.

Sheriff Richard Round­tree presented his plans for a safer downtown to the Au­gus­ta Commission last July in the aftermath of the brutal beating of Ashley Solesbee and Wesley Spires on Riverwalk Augusta. Although the attack outraged the community, downtown businesses owners maintained that the area was safe but acknowledged there was a perception it wasn’t.

An Augusta Chronicle analysis of serious crimes showed at the time only about 2 percent of all serious crimes committed countywide occurred in the downtown business district.

Roundtree presented three ideas: closing the riverwalk from 11 p.m. to sunrise between Fifth and Ninth streets, installing 32 security cameras and establishing a special tax district to fund six additional officers to work downtown.

The commission approved the plan a week later, but most of the changes have not occurred. The cameras, for instance, were part of a penny sales-tax package that did not pass.

In April, the sheriff unveiled his plans for the SMART unit, which would give additional coverage to areas between Greene Street and the river and Fifth and 13th streets using existing personnel.

The unit consists of four deputies working in pairs to provide 20 hours of coverage through the early morning, and two community service officers who work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Fri­day, in addition to the normally assigned officers to that zone.

Community safety officers are not certified and lack arrest powers but serve as the eyes and ears of the sheriff’s office.

The team, whose members dress in highly visible fluorescent yellow shirts, patrols the streets in cars, bicycles, Seg­ways, golf carts, Mule ATVs and on foot.

“We’ve gotten to know all the business owners and have all their emergency numbers,” said Elfie Hayes, a community safety officer. “We go in and visit with them almost every day.”

Jennifer Tutt, the owner of Sit A Spell Coffee Shop, said the unit frequents her shop to get to know her, her customers and what “normal” activity looks like there.

“It’s so much more personable than a deputy just passing by,” she said.

Deputy William Mundy said authorities have gotten more tips because of the increased police presence, which has helped decrease nuisance behaviors such as aggressive panhandling, which some business owners said lost them business.

In addition to the SMART unit, Roundtree implemented a new plan about a month ago that eliminated the department’s 35 beats in favor of a zone model, which is more data driven. The changes resulted in more deputies not involved with the SMART unit expected to be placed in the downtown area.

Sgt. Michael McDaniel said the sheriff’s office is expecting positive results from that change.

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oldredneckman96 07/12/14 - 08:30 pm
Andy, Barrney and Goober

This whole thing reminds me of a Andy Griffin show with Barney and Goober forming citizen patrols. That was written years ago as humor not as a blue print for today. To add this distraction to the traffic in downtown is the dumbest thing I have heard today. Golf carts? Segways? Mules? Bicycles!?!? I can hear Goober; “Citizens arrest!!! Citizens Arrest!!” If our public officials could or would try earn the respect of the citizens they serve they would have all the eyes and ears they would ever need. As long as this stupidity continues and they make a laughing stock of the whole justice system no one in their right mind would have anything to do with them.

bclicious 07/13/14 - 06:25 am
Not bad . . .

I want to say that this is the first story involving the newly hired Community Safety Officers of RCSO. Keep in mind that these are all unarmed non law enforcement officers, but most would have ambitions of becoming LEOs, and this is a good entry level job.

Because of this being the only department in GA that has a program like this, and the fact that these guys don't have a wealth of training, my hat is truly off to the Community Safety Officers. Also, I have always been a huge believer in both Community Policing and Police Saturation.

seenitB4 07/13/14 - 06:28 am
Fantastic news!

"overall crime in the downtown business district down 33 percent and violent crimes down 86 percent. Non-residential burglaries dropped to zero from four the previous month."

Riverman1 07/13/14 - 12:40 pm
East Richmond County™

East Richmond County™ requires extra policing from the rest of the county it appears.

corgimom 07/13/14 - 05:13 pm
Riverman, I thought the same

Riverman, I thought the same thing.

Why does it need extra policing if it's safe?

corgimom 07/13/14 - 05:16 pm
I truly hope that Ms.

I truly hope that Ms. Kim­ber­ly Beasley can keep going after the Outlet Mall opens.

While SOME are thrilled about it, it is going to kill small business owners in the CBD, especially ones like Ms. Beasley, who has worked so hard to make her store a success.

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