Chief: More police needed to patrol downtown

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Downtown Greenville is attracting more people day and night, prompting Police Chief Ken Miller to ask to create a separate unit to patrol the city’s entertainment district.

As Greenville grows and downtown becomes even more popular — for living, working, playing, and protesting — the city’s police department is taxed to keep up.

The city’s downtown residential population is increasing — it is estimated that about 7,000 people now live there. There are 1,484 residential units under construction and another 142 in the planning stages. Another 28,800 people work downtown during the day.

One hundred twenty-five restaurants and 25 bars operate in the central business district from Beattie Place to Markley Street. Ten hotels are operating now, and four are under construction. Two more are planned.

The Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail attracts more than 500,000 visitors per year; the Cancer Survivors Park is nearing completion; and plans for City Park, the city’s new signature park on the western edge of downtown, are being developed.

There were 445 special events held in Greenville last year, and 99 percent of them occurred in the central business district. The Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Peace Center, and Fluor Field increase the downtown population during the day and at night, and sometimes all three venues have events for which the Greenville Police Department has to provide traffic control at the least, Miller said.

In addition, downtown Greenville has become the preferred spot for political protests and demonstrations. “It’s the new norm,” Mayor Knox White said.

Sometimes, protests and counter-protests are held at the same time, requiring police to ensure that each side is able to have their say while preventing skirmishes that have turned violent in other places.

“Everybody wants to be here to make a statement,” said City Manager John Castile.

The police department’s entertainment district unit, which would patrol from Markley Street near Fluor Field in the West End to Beattie Street near the Hyatt, would work from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. to coincide with downtown’s peak hours. Miller wants two squads of eight officers and one sergeant each.

Six officers assigned to Zone 1, which includes downtown, now provide coverage. The department also uses extra-duty officers on their days off, but Miller said those officers are not a consistent, viable solution because they are not trained in the laws specifically affecting downtown such as permits and ordinances pertaining to noise and street performers.

“Providing proactive coverage is challenging for us,” Miller said.

The entertainment district unit would patrol on foot, bicycles, or electric motorcycles.

The cost of the unit hasn’t been determined yet, but Miller said it takes the better part of a year for an officer to hit the street.

Miller told City Council members the new unit along with the extra-duty officers hired by downtown establishments would give the department “the right mix and presence.”

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