Nothing succeeds like a cop on the beat

April 7, 2013 

Deborah Cash is executive director of the SLO Downtown Association.

JAYSON MELLOM — The Tribune

Recently, the Downtown Association posted an online petition requesting that the San Luis Obispo City Council dedicate two full-time police officers to the downtown area seven days a week.

This request has its basis in addressing intimidating/threatening/injurious actions by those persons who, whatever their life situation, mean to flaunt the rules of society and the laws of the land. It is not about judgments regarding any segment of our society, although the observation is that many of those problem behaviors seem to be connected to the transient population passing in our community.

In 1995, when I became the administrator for the then-BIA (now the Downtown Association), one of my first duties was to participate in the groundbreaking for the Prado Day Center. I served on the steering committee, and later the Board of Friends of Prado Day Center, for 10 years and was treasurer for part of that time. The Downtown Association continues to have a representative on the board and works to raise money for the center. We are looking forward to working with United Way on its 211 program and with a county service directory program to steer those needing help toward the appropriate resources.

While there are some attempts to tie our request to homelessness, there needs to be more understanding of the separation of the global problem our community is struggling to address and the immediate need to implement programs that ensure safety and security for those working, shopping and visiting the city’s central business district.

Over the past decade or so, issues with homeless/transient/problem behaviors often appeared on board agendas, though the magnitude seemed to wax and wane, typically based on the season. In the past few years, though, we’ve experienced a sea change.

The continual and persistent presence of persons generally referred to as “will nots” (service resistant) has led to an unprecedented number of business owners and employees, visitors, customers and residents asking not only “What’s going on?” but “What can you (the Downtown Association) do about this?”

We started out by hiring a private security guard to patrol the downtown area daily at a cost of about $50,000 a year. Daily logs indicate the number of contacts, calls for police assistance and seem to show the program has merit. But when the security guard himself is assaulted coming on the heels of other physical attacks in the downtown area, we have to ask for relief. Ergo, the petition.

Essentially, what we’re seeking is a return to the “good old days” when we had dedicated bicycle cops in the downtown area. Police presence serves a number of positive goals:

• It lets business owners/ employees, visitors, residents and the community at large know that we care. We recognize a problem exists and we will give it our immediate attention.

• Police presence serves as a deterrent to those who think downtown SLO is a cheap and easy gig for acting out, harassing/ intimidating others and perhaps making a living while leaving trash, animal offal, graffiti and other evidence of disdain behind.

• Police presence enables business owners and employees to look up and see that thin blue line between themselves and those who would impact business and our downtown’s reputation negatively.

When the powers that be decided some years ago to end the Mardi Gras era in our town, it happened. It was expensive, but they made it happen: they sent a message. We understand that enforcement is not the only tool to solving the issues, but it is the most immediate and effective step to send a message.

The City Council has an opportunity to address not only the problems and the real issues we face, but also the fear generated by those who have little regard for social order. Hopefully this information will clarify why we’re asking for relief and highlight our efforts to support programs for those who desire help.

Deborah Cash is executive director of the SLO Downtown Association.

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