RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Public safety is the number one concern for people who live and work in downtown Raleigh, according to a survey presented during a “Safe, Vibrant, and Healthy Community” Committee meeting on Tuesday.
In just the transit mall area, officials have reported a 90% increase in aggravated assaults.
Business owners and customers said they’re getting threatened, daily.
City leaders and local business owners came together Tuesday, in hopes of finding a solution.
Business owners said they’ve had enough, and they’re struggling.
“It’s really hard to do business when you have big groups of kids hanging out in front, selling drugs,” said a manager for Young Hearts Distilling.
The increased crime across downtown is not only impacting employees but also customers.
“My staff has been spit on. My staff has been thrown up against glass windows. My staff has been sexually groped. My staff has been threatened with bricks. And they have had their lives threatened on a regular basis. This is a daily thing. It’s incredibly stressful. We can’t take it anymore,” said Kim Hammer, the owner of Bittersweet and Johnson Street Yacht Club.
“They’re afraid to come. Does that resonate with anybody here? They’re afraid of Raleigh,” said Rusty Sutton, the owner of The Green Monkey.
Local business owners shared one similar story after another with city council leaders: each with their own plea for help to keep downtown alive and safe.
“We have had a successful business that has only risen every year that we’ve been open,” added Hammer. “Now it’s down. And some months, it’s down as much as 50%.”
“Our biggest thing is we’re trying to convince corporate customers to come downtown. It’s getting harder when safety is bad,” said Sam Dinner, with Taste Carolina Food Tours.
Officials highlighted the “hot spots” for crime: the GoRaleigh station, portions of Fayetteville and Davie streets, the “Business Core” area, and Glenwood South.
Business owners said they’re dealing with an increase in harassment, aggressive panhandling, drug use, and much more.
“[We] are having to clean up human feces and needles from patios and people exposing themselves,” said Matt Coleman, who owns The Davie.
According to officials, in the Glenwood South Area alone, so far this year, police have logged 94 misdemeanor drug violations. That’s a 32% increase from this time last year.
Reports also show that officers seized 137 illegal firearms in Glenwood South, which is a 17% increase.
City leaders are now working together to combat rising crime, and are looking at what other cities, like Atlanta and Baltimore, are doing to help mitigate problems.
They are adding lights to certain areas of downtown and are amping up their network of surveillance cameras.
Leaders are working to expand a transit policing unit and create a full-time bicycle squad.
Officials have also decided they are hiring a private security team. Leaders have already reached out to three companies, who have told officials they need to have armed guards. Initial cost is expected to be around $250,000 to $500,000, but nothing is officially in the works at this time.
The security is needed as the Raleigh Police Department deals with 91 sworn officer vacancies.
“We understand the concerns of the public and understand the concerns of the business community. And we want to utilize our officers in every way that we can, and we are doing that. But we just need more officers,” said Police Chief Estella Patterson.
Patterson also is recommending business owners, especially in the Glenwood South neighborhood, to get metal detectors, to help stop people with weapons.
She added the increased police presence seen over the past couple of weeks has made a difference.
However, Patterson emphasized it’s not necessarily sustainable, based on staffing issues, and there needs to be other resources and ways to combat growing crime.
“We’ve been doing everything we can to work toward it and try to come up with solutions,” she explained. “This is going to be a collaborative effort. There’s not just one fix to this. We just can’t keep throwing officers, necessarily. I think we have to use all of the tools and all of the resources that we have to combat what we’re seeing.”