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Downtown is safe; media to blame, sheriff says

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 9:58 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Aug 7, 2012 1:59 AM
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Downtown is safe, and the media are to blame for making it appear otherwise, Sheriff Ronnie Strength told a forum Wednesday night.

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Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver talks about the positive things he sees happening in the city during a First Friday meeting at the downtown library.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver talks about the positive things he sees happening in the city during a First Friday meeting at the downtown library.

The number of crimes downtown “is not a blip,” the sheriff said, chastising local journalists for what he said was an inaccurate portrayal after a July 6 shooting that wounded six people. He said the coverage has been excessive.

“Fort Hood didn’t get that much media attention,” he said, referencing the 2009 Texas military post shooting in which a single gunman killed 13 people and wounded 29 others.

Wednesday’s forum at the Augusta-Richmond County Library, put on by Augusta District 1 commissioner Matt Aitken and attended by about 125 people, was held in reaction to the recent shooting and concerns by downtown merchants and others.

Strength, one of several panelists, presented statistics that he said showed downtown is a safe place.

He said his office has received 296 criminal calls in the downtown area, which he described as from Fourth to 13th streets and from the Savannah River to Greene Street, in the past six months. He said 194 were for misdemeanors including thefts, thefts from an automobile, criminal trespassing and simple assault.

He did not offer a comparison of crime incidents in other areas of the city.

The panel also included Brenda Durant, the executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council; Peggy Seigler, of the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau; Ben Casella, of the Downtown Augusta Alliance; and Sanford Loyd, of the Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative.

Panelists were asked two questions: What can we collectively do to improve the overall health of downtown, and what can we do about the future of First Friday?

Strength said he would like to see someone take responsibility for the event from 6- 10 p.m. He said his deputies would take care of it after that.

“After 10 o’clock they belong to me,” he said

Durant said the arts council had been in charge for the past few years since the Downtown Development Association no longer wanted to run it. She explained the process of giving out passes for vendors and how each store is responsible for the space in front of each establishment.

She said she would welcome the input and support from others invested in the area.

Panelists said they want to regulate the hours of First Friday and shut it down when those hours end. An idea sheet was posted on the wall where each suggestion was written down.

City Administrator Fred Russell said the forum panel would meet again early next week and would be tasked with writing down a plan of how to move forward with the monthly event. He encouraged the public to submit ideas on paper at the meeting or e-mail him over the weekend.

“We will put together a plan for August’s First Friday,” he said.

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crossyourarms
211
Points
crossyourarms 07/18/12 - 10:43 pm
5
4
Fort Hood?Fort Hood didn't

Fort Hood didn't get that that much media attention because the shooter was a Muslim, and as we should all know by now... that goes against the Narrative of the Pravda. Those dead soldiers weren't good enough victims.

Lori Davis
905
Points
Lori Davis 07/18/12 - 10:39 pm
7
2
DAP is the KEY

Where is the Downtown Advisory Panel in all of these plans? They are the Commission sanctioned group to come before the Commission with recommendations to cure the problem. They were put in place by the Augusta Commission by resolution. Matt Aitken, Sheriff Strength, Deke Copenhaver, and Margaret Woodard have totally gone around this Panel. Not a good move at all. What happened to proper protocol?

my.voice
4727
Points
my.voice 07/18/12 - 11:17 pm
6
1
Does Sherrif Strength mean

Does Sherrif Strength mean members of the media shot those six people Friday night?

AutumnLeaves
7014
Points
AutumnLeaves 07/18/12 - 11:29 pm
5
1
Says our sheriff:

Our sheriff says that ".... his office has received 296 criminal calls in the downtown area, which he described as from Fourth to 13th streets and from the Savannah River to Greene Street, in the past six months. He said 194 were for misdemeanors including thefts, thefts from an automobile, criminal trespassing and simple assault." and he says that the media's coverage is excessive? I think they have shown either remarkable restraint or ? Are those numbers supposed to make us feel better? Or is he being sarcastic? I don't know about you; but it is worse than I thought.

countyman
19718
Points
countyman 07/19/12 - 12:04 am
3
4
All you have to do is look at

All you have to do is look at the crime stats from all over Richmond County, and the rates in Columbia, Aiken, etc... 296 calls over a six month time period(180 days) equals less than 2 crimes per day....

I really hope the average person doesn't believe the majority of areas in the CSRA have less than one crime per day.... I've been saying the CBD is overall safe, and 95% of the crime reported as 'downtown' in the media happens outside of the CBD..

The media can make people feel an certain way compared to the actual reality.... The FBI stats clearly tell us Augusta is safer than the majority of similar size metros/cities.... Several people on here would have you believe Augusta is one of the most dangerous cities in the US... The Chronicle doesn't report on 90% of the daily crime outside of Richmond County.. I know some people would respond with the paper is called the 'Augusta' Chronicle.. Then why aren't the majority of positive stories about Richmond County too... I notice the Chronicle always prints an article when any restuarant, store, etc opens outside of Richmond County...

Riverman1
82184
Points
Riverman1 07/19/12 - 03:17 am
9
0
A few points

A few points. Augusta has a tiny urban area. The old city boundary prior to consolidation has a population of only 44,000. Crimes in that area with such a small population are more significant. When you include the rest of the county crime numbers are diluted because suburban populations always have less crime than urban ones. That's one of the quirks about crime statistics in consolidated city-counties.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 07/19/12 - 04:07 am
7
0
Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 07/19/12 - 04:08 am
7
2
Fort Hood didn't get much

Fort Hood didn't get much media attention after the shootings??? Maybe for his retirement, all of the officers will chip in and buy him a television, radio, computer, or a smart phone. At least get the poor man a subsciption to a newspaper or magazine. Fort Hood was blasted across all types of media. He really had to go out of his way to miss it.

Riverman1
82184
Points
Riverman1 07/19/12 - 04:14 am
6
2
TechFan, look up sarcasm.

TechFan, look up sarcasm.

seenitB4
85293
Points
seenitB4 07/19/12 - 04:49 am
4
1
OMG OMG

This reminds me of a cat covering up his mess.....

cover cover....you don't see it ---it didn't happen...

Did the media birth the shooters too.....if the right names had been shot on Broad (yall know what I mean)Ft Hood couldn't hold a candle to the news.

Riverman1
82184
Points
Riverman1 07/19/12 - 05:00 am
8
0
Still Thinking About the Upscale Strip Clubs

Countyman said the other day we need more upscale strip clubs in Augusta. I don't know if that was a knock on the ones we have, but since he pretty much knows what's going on, I wonder if he has any news about new clubs? I went to sleep last night imagining myself in an "upscale strip club."

Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 07/19/12 - 06:40 am
7
1
River: I don't think he was

River: I don't think he was being sarcastic. In the clip on the news last night, it looked like he was throwing a hissy fit. If I'm not mistaken, there have been a number of incidents around First Friday and they seem to have been escalating. Strength sounded like this was the first he'd ever heard of anything amiss at these events. Sadly, I think he was serious. A 6 person shooting in the downtoen area after one of the major continuing events and the media coverage is, "excessive". I think he's just ticked that it happened before he got out the door.

Georgialina
7441
Points
Georgialina 07/19/12 - 07:01 am
8
0
Ronnie is Wrong

I have known(worked with him and for him) the Sheriff for over 25 years and consider him a smart man, however he is really off the mark here. The media is the blame??? Really Sheriff? I don't think so. Not a single newscaster shot a gun. That's where it started, not when it was reported. His Ft. Hood comment, sarcasm or not, was uncalled for. I would have a hard time agreeing that downtown is safe. I carry a gun and don't go downtown after dark. Sorry Ronnie but your comments last night did NOBODY any good.

Little Lamb
45282
Points
Little Lamb 07/19/12 - 07:53 am
6
0
What, Me Worry?

City Administrator Fred Russell said

“We will put together a plan for August’s First Friday.”

Do you trust this man (the same man who struck the management deals for the TEE and the Marriott parking deck) to put together a plan for First Friday? Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he wanted someone to be in charge, but surely he wasn't thinking of Alfred E. Neuman.

lifelongresident
1323
Points
lifelongresident 07/19/12 - 07:57 am
1
0
the sheriff isn't wrong, he's
Unpublished

the sheriff isn't wrong, he's naive and detached from the real world...sorta like obama (in that repspect). he can claim downtown isn't a problem becase when he goes home at night (in hillcreek) he has very little to worry about because he live in an area of town not surrounded by streets and neighborhoods that look like a war zone. His neighborhood (hillcreek) is not in close proximity of any type of project/government or welfare housing as well as in his neighborhood (hillcreek) there is a covenant that no children are allowed to live, his neighborhood is more of a retirement neighborhood one way in one way out so lysterine and sha-nay-nay with their loud music riding thier 20's will stick out like a sore thumb and by the way in hillcreek there is no section 8 housing...so yeah sure it's easy for him to say "duh..the downtown area is safe"

countyman
19718
Points
countyman 07/19/12 - 08:15 am
1
3
What does the consolidation

What does the consolidation of Richmond County have to do with the number of calls per day in the CBD?? Even with the high daytime population, and thousands of people attending diffrent events... On the average day less than 2 crimes are committed in the CBD...

The FBI stats are based on metros, and have compared Richmond County vs other counties....

Plus unlike the cities of Athens, Columbus, etc Augusta isn't consolidated with the entire county(Hephzibah & Blythe).....

MachineMade
34
Points
MachineMade 07/19/12 - 08:16 am
6
0
And Vice Versa

The sheriffs department uses the media for their own propaganda and the media uses the sheriff's dept for their ratings. If Strength wasn't leaving he would not have made these comments because he would upset one of the departments "instruments".

Comments from the sheriff's department and reportings from the media must always be taken with reasoning...

bdouglas
4899
Points
bdouglas 07/19/12 - 08:59 am
7
1
I'll repurpose some of what I

I'll repurpose some of what I commented about on the editorial about the First Friday issue. It fits here.

Crime stats are all well and good. So there are less than 2 reported crimes per day "in the downtown area". There are PLENTY of things that happen downtown (or the CBD, if you'd rather) that are either simply not reported or just aren't necessarily classified as a 'criminal act'--things that greatly contribute to one's FEELING of safety while visiting an area. Being solicited by homeless citizens; eyed by less-than-savory characters; propositioned by ladies (or dude looks like a lady) of the night; harrassed by roving groups of foul-mouthed teens with no respect for themselves, others or property--any other number of uncomfortable situations--they all happen downtown. They've all happened to ME downtown, so whether someone lives in the CBD, Columbia County, North Augusta, Aiken or Kalamazoo, Michigan, makes absolutely no difference. Once you've personally experienced any or all of them, your feeling of safety can be greatly impacted.

But you won't find any of those things reported in the statistics that the Sheriff cited or that are reposted ad nauseum by CBD fans on here. It *is* still a problem that needs to be addressed, no matter what the official statistics say. A proactive and not reactive police force is part of the answer. A heaping helping of better morals and child rearing is a great start, too. Pretending there is no problem and holding press conferences to announce statistics that make no difference to those who have experienced the things I mentioned are not the answer. Demanding that someone be in charge is not how you address these issues, either. The only purpose that serves is giving people someone to blame when it goes wrong rather than doing something about it. It *is* the RCSO's responsibility to protect and serve the community. So get out IN the community, get to know the people you are protecting and serving, develop relationships with them that build trust, and don't just sit in your cars or stand on the corner waiting for something to happen.

bdouglas
4899
Points
bdouglas 07/19/12 - 08:34 am
5
0
And maybe I've missed it, but

And maybe I've missed it, but when are any of the candidates for sheriff going to weigh in on any of this with how they plan on addressing these issues?

Little Lamb
45282
Points
Little Lamb 07/19/12 - 08:36 am
7
0
Comment of the Day

The following comment from Countyman win's today's prize for confusion and irrelevancy:

Plus unlike the cities of Athens, Columbus, etc Augusta isn't consolidated with the entire county(Hephzibah & Blythe).....

Little Lamb
45282
Points
Little Lamb 07/19/12 - 08:41 am
8
0
Downtown, waiting for you tonight

bdouglas posted that the sheriff never described what he meant by "downtown," but in paragraph 6 in the story we read:

Fourth to 13th streets and from the Savannah River to Greene Street . . . .

I think the sheriff is squeezing the area a little too much. I would say "downtown" (or CBD to Countyman) should be Fourth St. to 15th Street and Savannah River to Walton Way, but what do I know?

Willow Bailey
20580
Points
Willow Bailey 07/19/12 - 08:43 am
3
1
I really don't think I can

I really don't think I can take this today.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 07/19/12 - 08:46 am
4
1
Countyman mentioned them

Countyman mentioned them getting an upscale strip club?? Is there such a thing? Wow. Stay classy Augusta.

Georgialina
7441
Points
Georgialina 07/19/12 - 08:51 am
7
0
MachineMade

The comment made by Machinemade at 8:16 am was a thousand percent correct. More often than not the Sheriff's Department uses media outlets to "advance" their cause. Had Ronnie's "hat" been in the ring for the election, this slam at the media would have NEVER been made!

bdouglas
4899
Points
bdouglas 07/19/12 - 08:59 am
3
0
LL: Thanks for pointing that

LL: Thanks for pointing that out. I missed it. Comment edited for accuracy.

Little Lamb
45282
Points
Little Lamb 07/19/12 - 09:02 am
5
1
Huh?

From the story above:

Strength said he would like to see someone take responsibility for the event from 6 - 10 p.m. He said his deputies would take care of it after that. “After 10 o’clock they belong to me,” he said.

Is Strength saying that Brenda Durant would have to provide private security from 6 to 10 p.m.? Would Brenda Durant be responsible for crowd control, vehicle traffic, breaking up fights, arresting people for lewd behavior, public drunkeness, and assault between 6 and 10? Or is he just setting up a protection racket and demanding payment for deputies to be there between 6 and 10? Can anyone make sense of Strength's statement?

Little Lamb
45282
Points
Little Lamb 07/19/12 - 09:08 am
2
1
Candidates

bdouglas had a good post at 8:34. We have here an opportunity for the candidates for sheriff to get ahead of the curve and show some opportunities to differ from the herd. For example, if Strength is trying to extort money from the downtown business owners for his deputies to provide law enforcement services from 6 to 10 p.m., perhaps the law and order candidate (i.e., Freddy Sanders) could step up and say that he will provide police protection during First Friday at no extra cost to the downtown merchants. That might set him apart from Casper Milquetoast.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 07/19/12 - 09:09 am
1
4
CBD = Commercial Broad

CBD = Commercial Broad District and also Central Business District.

The Commercial Broad District is a moniker used by Augusta Historical Preservation office to delineate different zones of downtown. The Central Business District would be within the general area of Broad Street and adjacent streets.

And I absolutely agree that the media sensationalized the angles to capture more attention and garner interest.

Little Lamb
45282
Points
Little Lamb 07/19/12 - 09:15 am
4
1
From the mouth of

Sheriff Ronnie Strength:

He said his office has received 296 criminal calls in the downtown area, which he described as from Fourth to 13th streets and from the Savannah River to Greene Street, in the past six months. He said 194 were for misdemeanors. . . .

On July 6 we had six people wounded by gunfire presumably from one shooter. How does Sheriff Strength tally that incident in his database? Does he register it as a call or does the fact that he had a dozen officers within hearing range of the gunshots make a call unecessary? Does he count it as one crime or six crimes? Does the window broken by the bullet(s) count as a misdemeanor property crime?

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 07/19/12 - 09:18 am
4
1
I'm skeptical about charging

I'm skeptical about charging the RCSO with taking patrol men away from the rest of the county to focus on FF. Everybody pays into the fund to pay for law enforcement, but utilizing it in this manner appears to only serve downtown at the cost of protecting the rest of the county where there would then be a void.

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