When it comes to the safety of downtown Macon, a faulty perception of high crime can be keeping patrons away.
Statistics show the most dangerous sections of Bibb County are concentrated outside downtown, said Bibb County Sheriff David Davis.
The highest crime areas are along the Houston Avenue corridor, Unionville, down Eisenhower Parkway to Bloomfield and into Village Green, Davis explained Wednesday morning to nearly two dozen downtown business owners and residents who gathered at the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In the first six months of this year, seven major crimes were reported in downtown including a couple of rapes and a few personal robberies or muggings. There were no shootings, he said.
But last month, five people were shot on Poplar Street outside Grant’s Lounge, which means the second half of the year will include those five aggravated assault cases.
“We’ve got to speak frankly, Grant’s kinda blew our numbers up a few weeks ago,” Davis said. “But that’s one place, one incident through the whole time. But what that does is reinforce people’s perceptions that it’s dangerous downtown. It’s a Wild West downtown.”
With more people living in lofts and apartments, the bar with a rich music heritage is now sitting in a residential sector, he said.
“Downtown folks need to decide what kind of businesses we want downtown,” he said.
Denise Saturna lives and works in a loft on Poplar Street and is disturbed when deputies use a loudspeaker on their patrol cars to clear the streets of vagrants and loiterers.
She can hear all the commotion through her closed windows.
“I’ve been sitting there with a client who wonders what’s going on,” Saturna said. “Get outside of the car and walk up to them.”
Col. Mike Carswell was taking notes.
“I’m going help you on that,” said Carswell, who plans to put deputies back on the T3 motorized stand-up two-wheeled vehicles to be closer to the people.
J.R. Olive, who works for the College Hill Alliance, said he has noticed deputies congregate at Third and Cherry streets during most busy nights downtown.
“If you’re down here, you know the shady spots,” Olive said. “You’re fortified with cops at Third and Cherry, but that’s not where crime is happening.”
Davis said that provides a central location from which officers can deploy to side streets. He cautioned against placing deputies outside particular clubs for fear business owners would feel unfairly targeted.
Rick Hill opened the Crazy Bull on Second Street about a year ago.
He hires two off-duty deputies to guard the country nightclub. A bouncer last week overheard a patron threaten to start a fight but lamented he couldn’t because of the security.
Hill said his customers come from smaller communities all over Middle Georgia, and he wants them to feel safe.
The city’s reputation can keep some from doing business in or visiting Macon, which is what prompted the meeting at the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park Superintendent Jim David has heard complaints about the east side.
“Unfortunately a lot of our Maconites will say they are not coming to the park because you’re in a bad neighborhood and so forth,” said David, who had invited the sheriff to Wednesday’s meeting to address concerns.
Davis showed slides of crime statistics showing an overall downward trend over the past decade, but he acknowledged perception is reality.
“The chances of getting robbed or assaulted or shot are very low,” Davis said. “Our biggest crime issue in Macon and Bibb is not the persons crimes, although we do have them, but the thing that drives our numbers up is our property crimes.”
Larceny, which includes thefts and shoplifting, can skyrocket the rate.
“We go out to the Wal-Mart on Harrison Road close to 500 times a year,” Davis said. “Any big store ... if it is something that is sitting on a shelf that somebody can tote out, they’re gonna steal it.”
Business owners also raised concerns about homeless people and vagrants asking for money or loitering.
Banning repeat offenders from restaurants or other businesses can help authorities make a case for trespassing, Davis said. Otherwise, offenders will only get a few days in jail for disorderly conduct.
Davis said the recent shooting outside Grant’s Lounge will create a crime spike of aggravated assault for downtown in just one incident.
“It’s sort of like the stock market,” Davis said. “You’re going to go up and down sometimes, but look at the longtime trend.”
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