That’s essentially what’s being bandied about, as local leaders suggest passing the hat to pay for an increased sheriff’s presence at the monthly event downtown, after a shooting at July’s First Friday wounded
We appreciate the generosity of Mayor Deke Copenhaver and others who’ve suggested donating to the cause. But it’s not a long-term solution, and it would only help the city avoid dealing with the issues head-on.
If the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office needs more officers – and few doubt that it does – then it’s incumbent on the Augusta Commission to find the money. Period.
The sheriff’s office will take the extra help – but it’s not certain that First Friday is in need of it.
Sheriff Ronnie Strength told us Tuesday that the total number of criminal reports arising out of First Friday was 11 in the first seven months of the event this year.
From Fourth Street to 13th, from the Savannah River to Greene Street, here is the number of First Friday criminal reports – mostly thefts, trespass and simple assaults:
“First Friday can be handled – but it cannot be handled if nobody’s in charge,” Strength told us. “It is not even close to being out of control.”
The sheriff’s statistics should bring some perspective to the discussion, starting with a public meeting on First Friday at 7 p.m. today at the Augusta-Richmond County Library on Telfair.
None of this is to say nothing needs to be done. Just that we need not panic.
First, this community owes it to the sheriff’s officers to find a better way to pay them for First Friday duty. Currently, the sheriff is robbing other budgets in his department to fund the estimated $2,700 cost.
Second, we owe it to the city and to downtown merchants to set and enforce an ending time on the festival: 10 p.m. Someone needs to be designated to see to it each month.
Third, it must be absolutely clear who’s in charge of this thing. About the confusion over that, Brenda Durant, executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council, wrote to us, “We do have a First Friday coordinator. Our coordinator has the phone numbers for the officers that are usually assigned to the FF beat. They have her number and call her with questions.”
But since the shooting July 6, the sheriff’s office has said it doesn’t know who’s in charge.
Fourth, the city and downtown merchants ought to work out who is responsible for what. The Chronicle keeps getting told that the city shouldn’t have to pick up the cost of security at First Friday, because it’s not an official city event. More than a decade in, maybe that should be hammered out.
It sounds to us like the violence has been overblown and that the parties involved in First Friday have done a pretty poor job of communicating.
Once we get that all figured out, the next step is to tackle the conditions that lead teens to aimlessly roam downtown streets hours after First Friday has concluded.
Will anyone step up and take a swing at that?