Officials say changing curfew may not prevent downtown crime

By: Carter Coyle, Web Produced by Rachel Quester Email
By: Carter Coyle, Web Produced by Rachel Quester Email

News 12 First at Five/ July 10, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There's more fallout today following the First Friday shootings that left six people injured last week. City officials and business leaders are trying to find a solution to crime downtown.

Captain Scott Gay says we don't have problems on the second, third, or fourth Fridays of the month; It's always on First Friday.

In the light of day, Cindy Bodner comes downtown to find a place to eat with a friend, while they worry violence on Broad Street has gotten out of hand.

"In light of what's just happened, I don't think I'll be coming until something else is done," said Bodner.

"First Friday was always meant to be an arts festival...now it's turned into a flea market," insists Captain Scott Gay with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.

One suggestion on the table is to roll back the curfew time to ten or eleven o'clock instead of midnight for juveniles.

But that's not so easy, as Captain Gay explained. "The curfew violations are very challenging and require a lot of resources. Officers who take in a juvenile for curfew have to sit with them, sometimes for hours, until a guardian picks them up."

Captain Gay raised the question, "Would you rather us be patrolling, trying to catch these folks who are shooting, or do you want us sitting and watching a juvenile?"

Captain Gay adds, they already have to pull in extra resources to prevent fights, gunfire and traffic on First Fridays. And no one is paying up for those extra patrols. "We have to steal from Peter to pay Paul for those events," he pointed out.

Melina Gunby works downtown at the YMCA. She worries an earlier curfew could mean fewer hours on the job. "Sometimes we don't get off until 11:30, and earlier curfew...that might end up with me in trouble," explained Gunby. She says there would have to be some sort of exception for working teenagers.

Gunby says she and her sister do enjoy coming to First Friday, but only in the early evening. "Once the sun goes down, that's normally when I leave because there's a lot more drunk people, there's a lot more fights that I hear. It's just not worth staying up here for," said Gunby.

The challenge now may be deciding whether to discontinue something that draws people downtown every month.

Other officers point out to News 12, the shooting happened before the midnight curfew, and after the official end of First Friday. Five of six victims were juveniles, but they believe the shooter was an adult.

Sheriff Strength insists downtown businesses will have to come up with funds if they want extra security.


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