Decatur Downtown Development Authority set to provide security services for downtownDowntown Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Decatur, GA — The Decatur Downtown Development Authority, at its April 14 meeting, approved a memorandum of understanding to implement a pilot program for supplemental security and law enforcement services in the city’s downtown business district.
The MOU is between the DDA and the city. The Decatur City Commission approved the MOU at its April 17 meeting.
In January, the DDA was considering working with Matrix Security, a Black-owned business that currently works with Worthmore Jewelers in Decatur. The DDA and the city, however, have decided not to contract with that firm and are instead looking to hire POST certified police officers to provide additional security services in downtown Decatur.
“After looking more into that with our city attorney, with our city manager and our chief of police, we have gone in a different direction,” Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill said. “We are no longer considering a private security company to do this.”
City staff thought it would be better to hire POST certified police officers, whether they are Decatur police officers or from other agencies, like the DeKalb County Police Department.
At the Jan. 13 DDA meeting, Business Development Manager Shirley Baylis said she has gotten increased calls from local businesses with concerns about shoplifting and some employees not feeling safe going to their vehicles late at night.
“The discussion has been around what can we do with a decrease in police presence around the Square because they are in other area of the city, and they are short on staff as well,” Baylis said. “We sought out to start looking at what do those options look like for bringing in, possibly, a security service. We have looked at one that has a presence in the city already with one business.”
Threadgill previously said the three things the city often hears about is security, cleanliness and beautification. She also pointed to some issues of loitering, aggressive panhandling, littering, shoplifting, as well as smoking.
The pilot program would run for four months, Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill said.
“This would try to alleviate some of the security issues that we have been seeing in our downtown,” Threadgill said.
Officers would be on the Square and in the city’s other business districts on from 5:30 p.m. to midnight on Thursdays and Fridays, and from 4 p.m. to midnight on Saturdays and Sundays. Threadgill said these are usually peak times when more people are on the Square.
The officers would patrol the Square, as well as East and West Ponce de Leon Avenue, between North Candler Street and Commerce Drive; Church Street, between East Ponce de Leon Avenue and West Trinity Place; Clairemont Avenue, from East Ponce to Commerce Drive; and other areas as identified during the pilot program.
“They would be patrolling on foot most of the time. They would also be getting to know the businesses, our downtown citizens. Just keeping an eye on things to alleviate some of the aggressive panhandling that we’ve been seeing. We want to curb some of the behaviors that we’ve been seeing,” Threadgill said.
The MOU lays out the expectations for the program and the expectations for the city and the DDA. The DDA will fund the program. If the city commission approves the MOU, the city would assist with recruiting, training, and supervising the police officers, City Manager Andrea Arnold told Decaturish.
The Decatur Police Department would publicize the program, identify interested officers, perform background checks and orient officers to their responsibilities and shifts. Decatur Police would also run reports on incidents.
The police department and DDA would only hire officers for the pilot program who are actively working for a police department, Decatur Police Chief Scott Richards said.
“Without additional security, we do feel that our businesses are at risk,” Threadgill said. “We want to make sure that this is a great place to do business, a great place for visitors to come and feel welcome and want to return to, and have a great experience in our downtown.”
For the pilot program, the DDA is responsible for paying the officers. The cost of the program for the DDA is $51,000. The officers would work as independent contractors for $65 per hour, which is the typical rate the city pays officers during special events, Threadgill said.
Previously, there was a dedicated officer who patrolled the Square, but the department currently does not have enough staff to have a dedicated full-time officer around the Square. Police do respond to the Square and there are part-time officers who come to the Square.
DDA board member Lisa Turner wondered why the DDA is funding the pilot program and not the police department or the city. City Manager Arnold added that once the police department gets up to full staffing, officers would be assigned to the downtown area.
“In the meantime, there are no officers to assign on a permanent basis,” Arnold said. “For the police department, if we’re going to be paying for officers, even if they are on the Square, our expectation…[is] they’re going to be serving the entire community. I think that’s one reason that there would be some reservation at this point in the program for us to be putting city funds behind something dedicated to one area.”
She added that the program is not intended to be a long-term program.
In other business:
– Construction on the Oak Cottage Court project is still underway. Land disturbance has been moving slower than expected due to weather and mobilizing the crews, Threadgill said. The construction of the retaining walls has been completed.
“We also had some delays in the sewer permit with DeKalb County. That has been resolved,” Threadgill said. “In terms of scheduling, [the contractor] is saying that most likely the vertical construction is not going to be happening until late May at this point. The final completion is likely in October.”
– The city is in the final phase of the downtown master plan. Decatur will host the final community meeting on the downtown master plan from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 27, at the Decatur Recreation Center, 231 Sycamore Street.
“Last night we had our third and final steering committee meeting where we were with MKSK, which is our consulting firm, to go over the objectives and also the draft action items,” Threadgill said.
The steering committee also looked at three opportunity sites – Baby Kroger and the Decatur Housing Authority properties, the county property on Commerce Drive, and the United States Post Office building.
“We’re considering them more opportunity sites because…most of our downtown has already been revitalized. These are just some leftover sites that are underutilized, have surface parking,” Threadgill said.
For the county buildings, the city will work with DeKalb to look at how the area near the intersection of Commerce Drive and West Trinity Place could be redesigned into a mixed-use project or public parking deck. The administration building and the Maloof Auditorium would remain, but there’s an additional one-story office wing and surface parking.
The post office does own its property, which is about five acres. Each site is a midterm to long-term outlook, Threadgill said.
“We don’t anticipate the post office closing that shop any time soon, but we do want to look at that as an opportunity site,” Threadgill said. “If the opportunity ever does come about, we have some guidance. We’ve vetted it with the community.”
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