When Will We Have Police Downtown?

2009 July 6
by Chuck Shotton

A long-standing question, request, plea, and outright demand of merchants and residents has been for there to be foot patrols by Leesburg police in the historic downtown. If nothing else calls for it, the recent string of robberies that started with Caulkins Jewelers and culminating with two robberies of the BB&T branch on Market St. within the last 5 weeks points out the desperate need for our tax dollars to be spent on something that the citizens have been demanding for years.

So my question to Chief Price, John Wells, and the town council is this. How many more robberies, assaults, and god forbid, worse have to happen before you people stop making excuses and put some police on the ground instead of tooling around in their cars? There are all sorts of arguments and hand-waving made in the past against doing this, but there are a few in favor of it that you cannot argue against.

First, Leesburg is a community. Yes, there’s  a community policing program, mostly implemented and staffed out of the goodness and dedication of a handful of town officers. But for the Leesburg police to feel that sense of community that the residents and merchants expect, they need to walk the streets. Stop in the stores, visit with merchants, greet citizens on the street, and add that extra added bit of confidence and security to our streets that just cannot be had from behind the wheel of a cruiser. The presence of one or two officers in an area full of pedestrians, transient traffic, and lots of commerce would do wonders in several ways.

Skate punks in the town garage would likely find another place to play that didn’t result in damaged vehicles and town property. Gang members looking to tag private property or intimidate residents out for an evening walk might consider another venue. People looking to rob local merchants might think twice if they notice that police on foot are watching alleys, visiting shops, and generally making themselves immediately available to residents and merchants. Scofflaws who block traffic in the middle of town during rush hour with illegal left turns, vehicles violating the prohibition on through trucks, etc. would be greatly reduced by an officer visible on King or Market. And for officers who don’t live in town (as most don’t), providing that direct, daily contact with people they are charged to serve and protect builds a relationship with the community that a small town like Leesburg deserves and those relationships don’t come from behind the wheel of a police car.

We all know that riding in a comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle is greatly preferable to walking a beat around downtown. It’s drilled into officers that getting put on foot patrol is some kind of less-than-desirable duty. But nothing could be further from the truth. I guarantee you that the residents and merchants of downtown would welcome these officers with open arms and immediately make them part of the great community that revolves around the pedestrian areas of our town.

And honestly, the incremental cost to assign two officers to this part of town on foot instead of in a car has to be offset by savings in vehicle costs and the reduced loss of business, property, and bodily injury. We pay taxes for this kind of service. Our town deserves it. It’s time for the council and town leaders to stop making excuses and do what the citizens have been asking for years. Put police officers on foot patrol in the downtown area. Now.

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