A stand for safety

Augustans must fight downtown crime -- and its perception

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A brutal assault on out-of-town guests on Augusta’s Riverwalk on May 3 shouldn’t define the city or its downtown.

But perhaps our response to it will.

We were discouraged to hear several speakers at a Downtown Augusta Alliance forum Wednesday carry on as if everything is fine, or that the real problem is a media feeding frenzy.

A South Carolina couple enjoying the Riverwalk May 3 was robbed and assaulted with a metal bat or club, fracturing the man’s skull; about the same time, a video of an April brawl on Broad Street surfaced. Not everything is fine.

Moreover, the media haven’t created anything. The community was horrified by the Riverwalk assault, and the media have accurately reflected that. And the brawl video? It came to light on the Internet, not in the news media.

Be thankful it did surface, rather than be angry at the media. We need to know what’s going on.

We agree completely that downtown Augusta is largely quite safe. But burying one’s head in the sand and blaming the media for dutifully reporting what’s going on won’t do anything to make downtown safer.

Having said that, we were excited by the turnout at Wednesday morning’s forum on the Riverwalk – not just the number of attendees, necessarily, though there were several dozen. It was the character and familiar faces of the crowd that was so encouraging. There’s a positive, energetic base of downtown Augusta supporters, and they were well represented at the forum.

Most of them do see the need for action: for increased lighting and security, and perhaps cameras.

Augusta Commissioner William Fennoy urged a solving of the crime and a reward to smoke out the perpetrators. And he said he wants to see a fundraiser for the victims.

“We have got to show the community that we are a
caring community,” Fennoy told the crowd. Noting that the area has invested $60 million to $70 million on the riverfront’s Reynolds Street in recent years, Fennoy said, “We have got to change that (unsafe) image.”

Richmond County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton told the crowd the department is shifting resources to respond, and that city Administrator Fred Russell is looking for funds to beef up security.

Eric Parker, co-founder of theClubhou.se – a creative technology club for people working to make Augusta a better place – says his partner Gordon Jones designed a free phone “app” called Guardian Watch that could help Augusta be safer. It allows people to send alerts or to photograph, video – even live-stream – a public incident or crime. Your phone gets free notifications of such things in your area or, for a small fee, for the entire area.

“It’s basically the digital-age version of neighborhood watch,” Parker told us.

Yet, despite the app being created here, Parker notes, “We’ve actually been getting much better response from it in other cities around the country. This is the first time, it seems, that people are paying attention to the fact that a homegrown product could help solve our problems.”

Parker, a Silicon Valley architect, is homegrown himself, having returned to Augusta in part to help lead the city’s technological renaissance. A part of the Downtown Augusta Alliance, he also realizes area businesses must fight not only crime, but the perception of it.

“Everybody that I know loves Riverwalk,” he says, “and to hear something tragic like this  happening at Riverwalk got  everybody together finally to talk about how to solve problems instead of just hoping that things get better.”

As for whether folks are overreacting to the May 3 attack, Parker says, “Possibly, to a certain extent. But I don’t think that you really can overreact for something like this. This is a horrible occurrence, and we can’t tolerate it. If we’re doing something positive, then I don’t see how it can really be considered a bad overreaction.

“We talked a lot internally about whether this is something where we try to come up with a list of demands for the city or whether we try to take action ourselves as the local business community.

And I think we all decided that this is our city too, and so we’re going to do what we can as a business community to solve the problems.”

In the end, it’s folks like Eric Parker – not the Riverwalk robbers – who will end up defining Augusta.

As long as others join in.

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specsta 05/12/13 - 01:55 am
The Perception of Safety

Here's something that has been on my mind.

I've expressed before that I think community policing, with officers getting out of their cars and getting to know the residents and the neighborhood, would be very effective in preventing crimes downtown, as well as solving crimes. Community policing would create a camaraderie and mutual respect between the citizens and the police officers.

But there's a problem - Operation Rolling Thunder.

This operation has done more damage to the "view" of citizens regarding the police than can be imagined. This might be why (I am only guessing here) former Sheriff Strength refused the operation, using the foresight to understand that intimidation tactics, heavy shows of force, etc. would affect the psyche of the citizens of Augusta.

It's almost like Sheriff Roundtree never had a chance to show Augusta how there can be a collaboration between the citizens and the police - in a mutually beneficial support role. The Governor's timing is suspect to me, to launch this right after a new Sheriff is elected. From February 14th, with the exception of Master's week, Augustans have changed their behavior of freely going about their business, in fear of being caught up in a roadblock with a small army of gun-toting cops.

This has wreaked havoc on any positive impressions the citizenry might have had regarding the police-citizen relationship.

When a population chooses to RESTRICT THEIR OWN FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT to avoid the intimidation factor of a roadblock, something serious has been lost. That loss is a view of the police as protector, replacing it with a view of the police strictly as an enforcer. But the goal should be a view of the police officer as a public servant (serving the people), which is the ultimate role of a police officer.

I don't think that I am alone in this summation. Many folks have changed their viewpoint of the police as a result of this Governor-sponsored operation. And there have been some serious mishaps along the way, such as a police-convoy accident and a wrongful arrest. There is also the consideration of lost business revenue, as people stay at home to avoid encounters with the police.

How will law enforcement re-invent themselves after the fiasco of "Operation Rolling Thunder"? What must they do to regain the respect and the trust of the community? How long will that take?

My observation is that if the negative perception remains, there will be an increased divide between the citizens and the police. And this does not help in reducing crime in the long run.

deestafford 05/12/13 - 08:39 am
I think this problem will be solved and soon because

we have enough smart people in business, government, and law enforcement who love Augusta that they will get the job done.

As to Operation Rolling Thunder...I see nothing wrong with it because it lets people know there are certain laws you should obey. I don't think anyone changes their ''going out'' habits because they maybe checked for driver's licences, car insurance, seat belts, baby in car seats, and sobriety. We complain about law enforcement are not doing their job; yet, when they put a concentrated effort in saving lives and injuries we get our panties in a was. I'm a big believer in watching out for Big Brother and government over stepping its bounds, but I don't think this is one of those times.

soapy_725 05/12/13 - 08:47 am
The number of attacks in the CBD after midnight is limited

by the number of lost sheep wandering the streets. But as always, money will out. Those with a vested financial interest will logically want more pedestrians in the CBD, all of the time. Those with the "Buckhead" theology would not permit a curfew. That would be so so repressive.

Give the nighttime CBD to the party crowd and let the laws of evolution take their course. Maybe an Augusta Red Light District, a la Amsterdam, would make for some major revenue.

Riverman1 05/12/13 - 09:15 am
Immediate Action

The Marriott should provide security for the Riverwalk with officers working specials for them. The hotel benefits tremendously from the TEE Center we built for the. That's the least they can do. Also, the bars, unless in a hotel, should close at midnight. Business owners and law enforcement will tell you that's when the trouble happens.

t3bledsoe 05/12/13 - 09:22 am
I-Pads as police equipment

WITH ALL DUE RESPECT TO THE POLICE MEN AND WOMEN, they have enough equipment to handle as it is. Perhaps, each police person could be issued an I-Pad that can be programed to show all of the feeds from the security cameras. Perhaps this will "give them eyes" on all most all of downtown. Just a thought.

freeradical 05/12/13 - 09:59 am
The Trouble With Technology

Is that as technology advances so does the callous , bloodthristy

nature of mankind .

Remember the teenage girl gang raped outside a high school event

in California while a crowd , including other teenage girls , stood

around and filmed , while adding commentary ?

Here's a thought ,

I dare anyone to deny that you stand at least as much of a chance of

bystanders using their apps, technology, etc,etc,, to calmly film &

comment on two people having their heads caved in with a ball bat , (

how do we know that even now there is not video out there of the

incident at this point ? can anyone say for sure ? ) ,

as you do having

someone use their technology to help stop or solve the brutality speaks

volumes as to what the very near future holds for today's children as

technology brings us to technologically inspired bloodlust future at

an ever increasing clip .

The land of the bloody tooth and claw on technological steriods is

where we are going .

big67red 05/12/13 - 11:20 am
Fix the problems, the image will follow

For commissioner Fennoy, and the Chronicle, it is not the image we/the police must change is it the actually safety of the riverwalk itself. The image will change only after the area is safe. No area of the city should be unsafe to walk in, that said is it also unrealistic to expect the police to be able to stop every thug with a bat/pipe/gun from doing evil. I don't think most of the citizens of the area want to pay for that much police protection, but they do want the perps caught and sent off to jail.

As for Rolling Thunder, it is time to see it as it really is, a money making idea of the state government. They are doing traffic stops, all or most of which carry fines, some large fines. If they were here to sweep up the drug dealers, robbers, muggers and thieves great, but they are not. So off to Atlanta goes a bunch of Augusta's money.

deestafford 05/12/13 - 06:34 pm
Even though I believe they will fix the problem downtown,

I will still take advantage of my Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP) anytime I go downtown...day or night.

jimmymac 05/12/13 - 07:33 pm

Don't leave home without it. If the young couple attacked on the river front had a gun they may well have turned the table on those two thugs.

dstewartsr 05/12/13 - 11:23 pm
They're serving Ben & Jerry's

... in the infernal regions, as for once I agree with Specsta. I have written several times about the police's 'occupying army' mentality, only to be dismissed as an overreacting alarmist. Funny thing, being surrounded by an armoured, rude and overbearing armed quasi-military group asking question that are none of their damn business has changed a few minds.

Nothing like being asked "your papers, please," in what used to be a free country.

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