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Decatur plans to continue hiring off-duty officers to patrol downtown on weekends

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Decatur plans to continue hiring off-duty officers to patrol downtown on weekends

File Photo used for illustration purposes. Downtown Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — Decatur is looking to extend a pilot program for downtown security, paying off-duty officers to patrol the city’s downtown on weekends.

Officers from various agencies have made arrests for several different offenses in Decatur, and their presence has reduced “aggressive panhandling” and “urban camping” violations, according to a city official.

The Decatur Downtown Development Authority, at its Sept. 8 meeting, approved a resolution supporting the extension of a memorandum of understanding between the DDA and the city for the program.

The Decatur City Commission will consider approving the extension of the MOU on Monday, Sept. 25. If approved, 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.

Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill said the program is not meant to be a long term solution, but the extra security is needed as the Decatur Police Department continues to recruit additional officers.

The pilot program initially ran for four months from April to August. During that time, officers were on the Square and in 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 patrolled 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.

If the program is extended, the officers will patrol the same areas during those same times.

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 will assist with recruiting, training, and supervising the police officers.

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 will only hire officers for the pilot program who are actively working for a police department, Decatur Police Chief Scott Richards previously said.

The program will be staffed by off-duty officers from various law enforcement agencies, including the Decatur Police Department. The city will also reach out to officers with the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office, the DeKalb Marshal’s Office and Agnes Scott who work special events for Decatur.

Attached to the agenda was a report from Decatur Police Captain Richard Phillips. It provided an overview of the number of officers who worked the program, the number of incidents they responded to, and the types of incidents they responded to.

“He mentioned that there were DUI arrests, traffic accident investigations, entered autos, missing persons, disorderly juveniles, suicide calls and locating a sexual battery suspect,” Threadgill said. “Having those extra security detail, peace officers up on the Square, [is] helpful to maintaining the peace and making a great business community in our downtown.”

She added that anecdotally, there has also been a “noticeable decrease in aggressive panhandling and urban camping” due to the program.

Twelve Decatur police officers, five DeKalb County District Attorney investigators, and one DeKalb County Marshal were part of the pilot program.

The DDA funded the pilot program, and it cost $61,750 for the first four months. To extend it, the cost would be $75,400. To help cover the cost, the city will reduce the management fees the DDA pays to the city by $37,000. 

DDA Chair Conor McNally said that at a previous DDA meeting, there were questions about the city splitting the cost of the pilot program. McNally met with City Manager Andrea Arnold and determined the city could split the cost through the management fees, he said.

“We pay management fees for all the staffing from the city for DDA purposes,” McNally said. “The $75,400 will be in our budget, but then we would have a corresponding decrease in the management fee for half of that.”

He added that the downtown security pilot program is providing a higher level of security and enforcement on the Square.

“We do a lot of things here at this board to try to support downtown businesses,” McNally said. “I think everyone would agree that there’s an issue going on that we need to have a resolution to or else we’re not going to be able to do our work. It’s going to undermine everything else we do.”

The city is working on other efforts as well, such as contracting with the DeKalb Community Service Board for mental health co-responders and developing an ambassador program. 

“There are other things that will happen to hopefully offset the need for this being permanent,” McNally said. 

Business Program Manager Shirley Baylis said that during a recent restaurant and retail meeting, business owners said they were pleased with the additional  security services. 

“They like having that immediate presence there if something comes up and not have to wait for an officer to come from maybe another residential district to get there,” Baylis said. 

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