News 12 at 11 o'clock / Wednesday, July 18, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Crime in downtown Augusta is low.
The Richmond County sheriff had a lot to say about that and public perception during a meeting Wednesday night about First Friday. More than a hundred people showed up to talk about it.
"Quit blaming First Friday up to 10 o'clock," said Sheriff Ronnie Strength. "Blame me after 10 o'clock."
Now, leaders are trying to make a change in downtown Augusta.
"Perception is reality," Strength said.
Perception is something that all the leaders agree is pretty bad when it comes to downtown Augusta.
"Bottom line for everybody, downtown is not a dangerous place," Strength said.
Almost a dozen community leaders sat on a panel to answer questions about the health of downtown and what to do with First Friday.
"Anyone saying that downtown is gonna shut down, they're crazy," said Mayor Deke Copenhaver. "Our downtown's best days lie ahead."
The spotlight has been on downtown Augusta since a shooting after the First Friday event injured six people in early July, but now they're hoping to use that same spotlight to help downtown grow.
"Things happen and they can happen anywhere and you can't control all of them," Strength said.
"It was a serious event that happened," said Mattie Mitchell, a citizen who attended the meeting. "It was really, really serious what happened, but as he said it could happen anywhere. Not necessarily just downtown, it could happen anywhere."
Strength broke down the crime numbers for downtown Augusta, saying they are so low, they even surprised him.
"The total number of criminal calls for the first six months of this year was 296 calls," Strength said. "That doesn't ever make our radar screen. I can cater you to some areas that have 296 a month, but it's not downtown."
With those numbers in mind, city leaders are determined to change the perception by keeping crime in perspective.
Strength says if you break down 296 calls for the downtown area, it equals about 1.6 calls a day. The number of criminal calls on a First Friday of any month has been a maximum of three in April and that includes all day long.