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Decatur extends program to hire off-duty officers to patrol downtown on the weekends

Business Crime and public safety Decatur

Decatur extends program to hire off-duty officers to patrol downtown on the weekends

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: The downtown Square begins to fill up as the sun sets during the city of Decatur’s Fourth of July celebration on Monday, July 4, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — The city of Decatur will continue to hire off-duty police officers to patrol downtown on the weekends throughout the rest of the year.

The Decatur City Commission, at its Sept. 25 regular meeting, amended the memorandum of understanding with the Decatur Downtown Development Authority for supplemental security and law enforcement services within the downtown business district.

The pilot program will be extended through Dec. 31. The city commission and DDA approved the MOU in April to hire off-duty police officers to provide supplemental security and law enforcement services within downtown Decatur. Off-duty officers will continue to patrol the Square and the city’s other business districts from 5:30 p.m. to midnight on Thursdays and Fridays, and from 4 p.m. to midnight on Saturdays and Sundays.

They will monitor 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. The police department coordinates a unit of two POST-certified officers to patrol the downtown areas.

City Manager Andrea Arnold said that off-duty Decatur Police officers, as well as officers from other agencies, can participate in the program. She added that most officers that patrolled the downtown business districts were from the Decatur Police Department and a few from the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office and DeKalb Marshal’s Office provided security services during the initial four months of the program from April to August.

“The feedback from our officers and from the businesses has been extremely positive,” Arnold said.

The city will provide half of the funding for the downtown security pilot program, which would be about $40,000. The DDA will provide the other half of the funding.

“The city has the funds available, also considering the salary savings that are available in the police department as we have vacancies,” Arnold said. “Also, this does recognize that the city does have a responsibility to provide a certain level of security service in the downtown business district.”

Decatur Police Capt. Richard Phillips said that officers have been present and looking out for the businesses.

“I do believe that having officers on site, even the times I was there, gives us a quicker response and also there’s a lot that I’m sure has been deterred, which is also one of those numbers that you really can’t measure. I think the program is successful and concur with the continuance of the program,” Phillips said.

Mayor Patti Garrett added that the program has been a creative solution.

“I think we’re all excited about being able to maybe move forward with the ambassador program supplementing and then having additional [police] officers that will be able to be assigned to the Square,” Garrett said. “I understand there is a robust recruitment program happening now.”

Arnold added that the security services in the downtown business district will be important heading into a busy time of the year.

“In particular, I think it’s important that the program continue as we are entering the busiest, and I would argue, the most important season for our businesses, but also with the caveat that the plan would be that this program ultimately would sunset at the end of the year, with the expectation that we would have additional police officers on staff but also…that we would see the ambassador program being implemented,” Arnold said.

“We are looking at private companies to provide this ambassador service,” Arnold added. “A recommendation for that program will be forthcoming, but the development of that program is in the works.”

The ambassador program is a place management strategy, Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill told Decaturish.

“It’s a mix of security. It’s a mix of cleanliness, like trash pick up, pressure washing, the beautification. It’s people who are there for visitors and can point people in the right direction. They’ll also be visiting with the business owners,” Threadgill said. “If we were to run all of these programs full-time, year-round, between the Tourism Bureau, the DDA and a little bit of the city, we’re investing over $400,000 for place management strategy in our downtown business district.”

The ambassador program would be a more cost-effective way for the city to provide those services. Although the ambassador program would not provide the same level of security as the POST-certified officers do as part of the downtown security pilot program. But the ambassadors would “still [be] the eyes and ears, and they will call our officers to come respond” if needed, Threadgill said.

Here’s a story about the program from Decaturish media partner Atlanta News First:

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