OUR VIEW: We need more cops on sidewalks

WAYNE LAUGESEN Updated: November 14, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: November 14, 2012

City Council gave first-round approval to forbid all forms of begging in a downtown zone that includes Acacia Park. Only Councilman Val Snider voted against the ban, and we thank him for respecting the First Amendment rights of one person to peacefully communicate with another.

Though we disagree with Tuesday’s decision, we applaud Mayor Steve Bach and members of the council for taking seriously a problem that concerns hardworking downtown business owners and employees.

The most unfortunate aspect of Tuesday’s decision was the public comments section, in which one speaker after the next elevated the level of hyperbole to portray downtown as a criminal-infested pit. One hopes this wasn’t heard by many prospective tourists, who would fear stepping foot in this town after watching that meeting. The baseless assumptions about scary-looking beggars culminated with Councilman Tim Leigh asserting: “These aren’t homeless people. These are criminals.”

Some are. Probably not most; certainly not all.

For the record, downtown is neither dangerous nor frightening. We can’t remember a beggar causing another person’s injury or death, and most violent downtown violence involves late-night altercations among bar patrons.

We concede that downtown suffers from a perception of danger. Again, the best way to enhance a sense of safety is to put cops on foot patrol so that downtown patrons see and encounter them.

We first made this suggestion when the mayor’s budget wisely called for an addition of 50 cops and 25 noncommissioned community service officers for 2013.

A palpable concern from Tuesday’s meeting is that our city does a poor job enforcing a law we have that forbids aggressive begging. If we’re not enforcing that, it is hard to believe we will enforce this additional law without adding cops in the no-begging zone. In the interest of enforcing all anti-begging regulations, we suggest that 15 to 20 of the prospective new officers receive special training for patrolling downtown on foot.

With or without the new anti-begging law, we believe downtown foot patrols would make our central commercial district a safer, more welcoming place to work, shop and play.

That's our view, so what's yours? Please begin or contribute to a Facebook discussion below this article.

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