Recent decrease in street robberies in downtown Athens

By Lacey Davis

Students and residents in Athens, GA have been on high alert since the eight reported street robberies in nine days this past December. Students have been increasingly concerned while walking home from downtown since the reporting of these crimes.

The crime rate in Athens appears to many as being higher recently than in the past. This increased sense of fear has likely stemmed from the highly publicized robberies that have occurred. Since the high crime rates in 2012, Athens law enforcement has made an effort to keep the public more aware of issues occurring in and around Athens.

There were 38 more robberies during the first four months in 2012 than in 2011, 75% of which were drug-related. Since the uptick in crime in 2012, 40 suspects were arrested and countless others have warrants out for their arrests. There has been an increase in detectives to catch these criminals still on the streets, according to OnlineAthens.com.

The Athens-Clarke County Police Department and UGA Police Department have told students and residents of Athens how to keep themselves safe. They have also stepped up law enforcement in areas with a history of being more dangerous, such as downtown. These efforts have led to lower crime rates and a safer community in 2013.

During the nine-day period with eight robberies in December 2013, emails were sent out over large student listservs from clubs and other organizations, local newspapers wrote several articles that were published each day on the new robberies and ACCPD released statements of how students should be aware of their surroundings.

“I always knew I needed to be careful walking around downtown at night, but I thought it was in areas that would never affect me,” Nikki Grossman, a sophomore majoring in psychology said. “I definitely felt less safe after I heard people were being confronted and robbed in areas that some of my friends live and are in every day.”

Students, such as Mitch Wunderlich, a junior majoring in business, are taking safety into their own hands while walking around downtown at night.

“I always try to make sure my friends go home in groups or at least with one other person so if something goes wrong then they’ll have someone who will know what happened,” Wunderlich said. “But now, because of all the robberies last semester, I actually call my friends to make sure they’ve gotten back safely. [Our safety downtown] worries me when I think about it.”

Wunderlich is using one of the many tactics that law enforcement has encouraged students to use to stay safe downtown. The most important tips are to travel in groups, avoid poorly lit streets and not to show large sums of cash.

The ACCPD released a statement after a few of these robberies saying the areas on the outskirts of downtown are the most dangerous. This could be a result of drunken young people walking around at night being an easy target.

“It definitely does worry me that downtown is more dangerous, but I’m thankfully rarely alone and haven’t felt unsafe in any particular area,” Jessica Strauss, a junior living in apartments just outside the boundaries of downtown said. “I just try to be aware to keep myself safe and always have my phone in my hand in case something happens.”

According to the Archnews listserv sent to all faculty and students, the winter season has a higher potential for person and property crimes. Thankfully, now that the holidays are over and it is officially spring, the risk is lower than at the time of these crimes.

Although the risk is lower than in years past, future residents of these areas where crimes were committed are skeptical as to if they chose a dangerous place to live.

Ellen Cohen, a sophomore majoring in digital and broadcast journalism said, “The security makes me feel much safer, but of course I was a little freaked out after hearing a few people were robbed just outside of the complex I’m living in next year.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m more worried this year than I’ve been in years past. It’s honestly just more or being aware now,” Lauren Cadranel, a senior from Atlanta said. “If there are problems now then I’m sure they were there in the past. I’m just hearing more about them this year.”

To keep the police in Athens as efficient as possible, the UGAPD and ACCPD frequently work together when there is a criminal overlap. “We work with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department all the time and are always sharing information with each other,” UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson told OnlineAthens.com.

The increased effort of public awareness in 2013 and 2014 has produced lower crime rates than in 2012, however still higher than five years ago.

“That’s a little hard for me to believe that it’s lower this year than last, but definitely reassuring,” Cohen said with a grin. “But that definitely doesn’t make me want to walk home alone or stop taking any precautions that I’ve been taking.”

Music to the law enforcement officers’ ears. A cautious and aware public is certainly a safer public, which will lead to even lower crime rates in the future.


The trashy issue of downtown Athens

By Lacey Davis

The smell of downtown Athens on a Sunday morning is familiar to pedestrians who frequent the city. It’s a thick stench of old beer and garbage. Attention is turned from the beautiful, historic buildings to the smell rising from the sidewalks.

The issue of garbage in downtown Athens is different than most cities. There isn’t a place behind the businesses to put dumpsters or trash cans. This means that businesses are forced to leave their garbage bags on the sidewalk at night when there are already crowds of people spilling into the parking spaces and road. There have been attempts to fix this problem in the past, however few ideas have succeeded.

According to Jim Corley, Director of the Solid Waste Management in Athens-Clarke County, “Roll carts were used at one time and the carts were left on the sidewalks all the time. Dumpsters had been placed around the downtown area when the service was tax supported, but when it became a customer paid service it was changed to the current bag service.”

Corley explained the current system by saying, “The customers pay a fee for the bags that covers the cost of disposal. They also select a level of collection services based on the type of business they have. For example, restaurants have a mandatory seven day-a-week service, whereas a small business may only have two.”

Although the city picks up garbage three times a day, seven days a week, the current system of trash disposal leaves pedestrians with an unpleasant feeling after walking the streets of downtown.

Gemma Formby, a junior majoring in accounting, said, “When I think about what I’m stepping over at night or if I ever go downtown early in the morning, it’s just disgusting, really.”

Shayna Brandi, Formby’s roommate from Sandy Springs, agreed. “I don’t really understand the issue, honestly. I realize there aren’t side alleys near every business, but why can’t the employees just walk the trash down to a dumpster that is kept on the side?”

The department of sanitation can longer use the system that Brandi suggested because, at the time the plan involving the roll carts was implemented, there were few bars and restaurants. There are now over 100. Corley said another problem was that “very few workers are going to carry heavy bags of bottles or food waste for any distance. Additionally, there is not a way to track who is using a dumpster that is not in a controlled environment.”

Although pedestrians such as Formby and Brandi are dissatisfied with the way downtown Athens handles its trash, few complaints are filed overall.

Corley noted that the only times that the city receives complaints is when trash is outside at unauthorized times, meaning more than hour before scheduled pickup. Trash pickup is every day at 2 p.m., 11 p.m., and 4 a.m.

Residents are also told to put their garbage on the sidewalks. Dana Heyman, a sophomore living in a downtown apartment, said, “We can put our trash out any day of the week. It’s pretty convenient. We have specific times to put it out. It can’t be on the sidewalk for an extended period of time.”

However, the real issue doesn’t lie among the residential garbage. Compared to the smell and large amounts that come from bars and other late-night businesses, residents pose little damage to the overall cleanliness of downtown.

Frank Russo, a bartender in downtown Athens, said, “Some people have suggested cutting back and reducing the waste but there isn’t much we can do. The majority of our garbage comes from bottles that are a necessity in any bar.”

In Jacksonville, Florida, another college town with a popular downtown, they have a different trash plan in place. The city charges each business for trashcans. According to Fox 30 News, business owners are opposed to the idea of trash bags sitting on the sidewalk, claiming it is bad for business and downtown. The plan is losing money.

If Athens is looking to revamp its current system for trash pickup, they need innovative ideas. Learning from Jacksonville’s failing system and the former system of Athens that will no longer work, there aren’t many obvious options remaining.

There have been several meetings over the past year and more planned for the coming months between Waste Management and the Mayor and Commission to discuss options, according to Corley.

Regardless of the plan that results from these meetings, Corley added, “if the customer does not follow the rules there will always be some problems as a result.”

Here is a video of trash in downtown Athens during the day. This video shows how, even during one of the least busy parts of the day, trash is still an eyesore littering the streets. In a short, 30 second walk, there were multiple piles of trash.

Multiple bags are on the street corner at night in downtown Athens.

Multiple bags are on the street corner at night in downtown Athens.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A bag of trash on the sidewalk, making the streets of downtown appear dirty and cluttered.

A bag of trash on the sidewalk, making the streets of downtown appear dirty and cluttered.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.


Pedestrians enjoy downtown’s “unregulated” music

By: Lacey Davis

As Rachel Ehlinger walks home from dinner on a Friday night downtown, she pauses to appreciate the tunes of the guitar that a musician plays just outside of her apartment, which rests above a small store on Clayton Street.

The peaceful music before the craziness of the night begins on the overcrowded sidewalks is one of the many reasons Ehlinger loves living where she does. The musicians are friendly; the music is moving.

“The same older man plays guitar on the bench outside of my apartment most nights,” said Ehlinger, a sophomore from Roswell, Georgia. “We’ve never had a real conversation, just a smile and casual greetings. It feels homey to have him around now.”

The government does not step in to regulate the street musicians and performers, often referred to as buskers, in downtown Athens.  According to Sgt. Derek Scott who is in charge of downtown operations for the Athens Police Department, there are not ordinances that directly deal with buskers’ limitations, only ones that may apply to them, including obstructing sidewalks and noise control.

The police rarely bother the buskers. The only time the authorities interfere with the music scene on the street is when safety or noise control become an issue.  “I am not aware of any citations being issued,” said Sgt. Scott. “Years ago I recall getting called to College Square in reference to an altercation between musicians. A violin player was upset because a flutist was playing too closely to him.”

“My band hasn’t seen any altercations,” said Sean Stephansen, a sophomore from Suwanee, Georgia majoring in business. He plays banjo, guitar and sings for his band, Manmade Mountains. They play on the corner of Clayton Street and College Avenue on weekends between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

According to Daniel Krieger, a 27-year-old resident of Athens who works a “tedious nine to five job” during the week and plays ukulele on weekends, “Some guys out here get real defensive of their territory. If you aren’t in the spot you want at the start of the day then someone will come up and kick you out of their spot.” He enjoys playing to relieve stress. Krieger will play on any open bench he can find; he isn’t picky.

In many cities across the nation, including Asheville, North Carolina, for example, there are guidelines regarding when and where busking is permitted, according to the official Asheville, North Carolina government webpage. Athens is fortunate to have musicians from all ages, backgrounds and cities around the country who come and play for free on the streets.

“Buskers add to the atmosphere of Athens as a music town. The downtown district is an entertainment hub,” said Sgt. Scott. “I think the buskers understand and appreciate the fact that if they are to be successful and stay welcome that they must be respectful of the laws and the citizens they perform for.”

Sgt. Scott is not the only one who believes the musicians add to the atmosphere. “I love live music,” said Katie Tiller, a sophomore from Atlanta who DJs for the University of Georgia’s WUOG radio. “Just being able to walk the streets at any time of day and hearing live music makes my day a little better. I can’t imagine Athens without them.”

Athens has been known as a music town since before the B-52s arrived in 1976. Students such as Stephansen are able to enjoy the freedom from licensing and strict laws. Without a second thought, Manmade Mountains is able to have a fun night on the town with a few friends and good music. “We play downtown because we enjoy it. It’s an amazing experience. The tips are on and off, but the experience is always great,” added Stephansen.

Speaking of tips, they are few and far between. Krieger said, “I used to leave my case open for tips but there were so few anyways that I decided to start keeping it closed. It’s more about the music.”

When pedestrians were asked about their tipping habits, the majority had comparable responses.

“I don’t have cash on me very often. I feel bad because I’d love to tip some of the musicians. I definitely have a few favorites,” said Tiller. “On the rare occasion that I’m walking around downtown with some extra money, I’ll put it in their case.”

Not only do the buskers add to the music atmosphere of Athens, but they also receive very few complaints from residents or pedestrians. Sgt. Scott remembered a man playing drums loudly on a five-gallon bucket. After several complaints the drummer was cited and never returned. Most calls concern outside concerts or bands. There have not been many complaints regarding buskers recently, according to Sgt. Scott.

The lack of regulation on the music scene in the quiet college town has added to the overall experience of several students. “The music is one of my favorite parts of walking around downtown on a sunny afternoon,” said Anna Roberto, a senior from Atlanta majoring in finance. “I’ll smile and say hello to them as I pass by. The combination of live music, sunshine and shopping is a cure-all remedy for me.”

If rules, regulation or licensing were a necessity in Athens, there are differences that would ensue. With an added legal step, many musicians may not find the process worth it and not perform at all. This is more likely among the students who spend most of their time split between school, work and spending time with friends. With pedestrians, residents and students enjoying the music with few complaints, this is unnecessary to even consider.

Downtown Athens, Georgia has revolved, with few issues, around the free-spirited music and compelling musicians behind the tunes. This musical scene has thrived for decades, and as the saying goes, there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken.

On this particular night, Ehlinger drops a single and few coins into the man’s guitar case. “I know the song this time. I don’t always, and I don’t always have extra change. Tonight I do. Must be a sign that it’s going to be a good weekend,” she said as she walked through her apartment entrance.