Downtown Police Substation Brings Reassurance Four Years Later

 By Ashton Adams

When an incompliant man began pounding on the glass windows outside the Smoker’s Den on College Avenue last week, employees didn’t bother calling the authorities.

Instead, manager Tonya Thorne walked next door and the situation was handled in less than two minutes.

The Smoker’s Den shares walls with the downtown police substation, a building whose presence alone has brought security back to downtown.

Preliminary plans to build a police substation in downtown Athens was what city planners called a “pipe dream” back in 2003.

Eleven years later, that pipe dream is now a reality and its presence alone has had a lasting impact on city crime.

At the station’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2010, Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin told the Athens-Banner Herald that, “When people see officers going in and out of the station and police cars parked outside, it will give the appearance that more officers are assigned to that area than actually are.”

Lumpkin correctly predicted that visible presence would positively correlate with crime deterrence.

Prior to its’ opening on College Avenue, the original downtown police substation was found in a more stagnant area.

Located in the historic Costa building on E. Washington Street, the original station was distanced from many bars and restaurants and lacked familiarity with those who frequented the area.

Crime rate downtown had been relatively uniform and unchanging in the years before the move.

Thorne said that the old substation did not create enough of a protective presence in the area.

“The Washington Street station wasn’t doing anything for petty crime and with it being out of eye-sight of the bars and partying, there was never any change in behavior downtown,” said Thorne. “Same crimes, different people. Year after year.”

Situated in the epicenter of downtown’s bar scene, the opening of the College Avenue substation in 2010 has since reduced certain types of crime most associated with disruptive late-night activity.

Athens-Clarke crime statistics collected from 2009 through 2013 by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reported significant declines in crime in every category except vehicle theft.

Burglary and robbery saw the sharpest drop in number during the station’s first year of operation with a 41 percent drop and a 39 percent drop respectively.

Burglary numbers continued to cede every year since the station has been in operation.

Rape was at a five year low in 2010. Down 33 percent after the station’s opening, rape numbers however have fluctuated in the past year.

Assault and larceny also faced significant declines, experiencing their largest downfall between 2009 and 2010. Larceny numbers continue to waiver in 2013 and 2014.

These figures prove to be impressive considering Lumpkin declared the county in a “crime emergency” in late 2007.

Thorne, who has worked downtown since 1997, attested to the quicker response time of police.

“It’s a relief to know that we can run next door if something does come up. It literally takes seconds,” said Thorne. “I remember we were worried that the opening of the station would negatively affect our business, but it really has had no effect. If anything, business has only improved.”

Employees at the Smoker’s Den, which is open until 2 a.m. on weekend nights, agree that the substation’s central location is a security blanket to all late-night businesses downtown.

Two bouncers at Silver Dollar Bar, a late-night business most closely located to the substation, affirmed that their job has become easier because of the police station.

According to one university student, the visible presence of the station is enough to promote cautious behavior.

“I think students, while they are out downtown late at night, see the police station and become ultra-aware of their actions. Knowing that the police are feet away and that they are watching makes me cautious to even the smallest infractions such as jay-walking,” said student Jaquantas Printup. “Obviously that presence has an even greater impact on larger crimes that are happening in the area.”

But 10 years ago, city officials debated whether building this station was the right decision.

According to a 2005 Athens-Clarke city staff report, building a new substation on College Avenue would be costly yet beneficial if its presence met the goal to “implement the geographical placement of all personnel and resources to respond appropriately to all citizen concerns.”

The decision also depended on imposing a county-wide tax referendum.

Athens-Clarke residents ultimately chose to continue a one percent tax and the substation opened in November of 2010.

With downtown crime being at its lowest in nearly a decade, officials have said that the move fulfilled city goals.

In a study published in the Journal of Law and Economics, Florida State University law professor Jonathan Klick found that cities that spend more on increased police presence experience dramatic reductions in crime.

“Our local and federal governments spend tons of money on policing, and it looks like we may be justified in spending much more,” said Klick.

Although it seems obvious that more police means less crime, many previous studies have come to contrary conclusions.

Regardless, the downtown substation has put a cap on crime.

Athens-Clarke police will continue to monitor downtown activity by foot, bicycle and vehicle.

Increased physical presence will impact the area for years to come.

For further information on Georgia state statutes, http://law.onecle.com/georgia/16/16-8-14.html

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