Richmond County rolls out new plan to keep downtown safe

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UPDATE: News 12 First at Five/ Thursday, April 17, 2014

Richmond County S.M.A.R.T. unit (WRDW-TV)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Downtown Augusta has had several titles in the past, from 'unsafe', to 'rundown', even a 'slum', but now, the Sheriff's Office is rolling out a plan to try to change that perception.

On Thursday, Sheriff Roundtree announced a plan to put seven permanent patrols in the downtown area, including three deputies and four paid community officers.

You won't be able to miss them, they'll be the officers in neon yellow roaming around downtown starting this week.

Deputy Josh Anderson will be on the newly formed S.M.A.R.T unit which stands for Safety Management and Response Team.

"We're not here to harass patrons of downtown or give anyone a hard time," Anderson said. "We want them to come down, enjoy it, and have fun."

The patrol team will be using bicycles, Segways, golf carts, and patrol cars to patrol the downtown area.

"It's been over a year's process. Ever since I got into office, and we're extremely excited today," Sheriff Roundtree said.

It's a program Michael Weldon, owner of the Psychotronic store on Broad Street, is also excited about.

"I hope it brings more customers and strollers and also makes more businesses feel confident to move here or move back here even," Weldon said.

His business has been opened a little over a year now, but customers aren't exactly beating down the doors.

"It's been okay, but it needs to be a lot better. We need more people to come downtown, and I'm really happy there's some new shops opening up on this very block," Weldon said.

He's hoping to see even more 'opening soon' signs in empty store fronts. He thinks the added security will help with that, but he does miss the CADI team that used to help keep downtown clean.

"We clean up in front of our own shops, but other places are getting kind of messy," he explains.

Margaret Woodard, Executive Director of the Downtown Development Authority says a fix to that problem, may not be far behind.

"I think the safety portion of this is exactly what we needed. We still need to work on the clean element. I think you'll see something come back on that in another form as well," she said.

Of the seven people who will be patrolling, four are civilians who will be in the same bright uniforms helping with security. The deputies will have a gun belt, but the community officers will not.

If the program is a success, they plan to expand it out to different parts of the city like the Village at Riverwatch.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- The Richmond County Sheriff's Office created a community safety officers unit called S.M.A.R.T. (Safety Management And Response Team).

The unit will act as Sheriff's Office ambassadors working closely with deputies, a news release said. S.M.A.R.T. officers will foot patrol, use bicycles, segways, bikes, golf carts, military-like motorized mules and cars.

The team is primarily assigned to the downtown business district, a release said.

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