WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. --Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach is looking different as construction crews work on the Streetscape Project to make downtown more walkable. But, it also feels different.
Some businesses say since the Downtown Development Authority added a police officer seven days a week, they're dealing with fewer issues.
Two months ago the DDA started a 90 day trial program to pay for another officer to patrol five blocks of Clematis Street. There are no hard numbers yet to see if the extra presence has helped reduce calls for service downtown or curb trespassing and panhandling issues, but the DDA said so far the feedback has been positive.
"I think we’ve noticed a difference in not only the presence in our downtown are but also the energy and feel from our business owners and patrons," said Teneka James, Associate Director of the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority.
The 90 day trial program was initiated after a rash of isolated but very violent incidents downtown; one where a woman was stabbed in the chest while riding her bike. In another incident, a woman was stabbed, police say, by a homeless man while she was eating dinner outside of a restaurant downtown.
"The street has been doing really great since the additional beefed up security," said Rusty Griffin, sales associate at Finer Optics.
Griffin believes the added police presence has also served as a deterrent.
"It's been calm," said Colton Lance, General Manager of Lynora's restaurant Downtown. "The ones who were a little bit aggressive, I haven't seen in a really long time," said Lance about the homeless individuals that have been known to cause problems in the past.
"I think all of those heightened incidents put a little pressure on things. I think working together and seeing what we can do has really made a difference in our downtown area," said James.
Lance said the added police presence has even increased communication between business owners and officers.
"They have made more contact to see if there have ever been any issues or any problems at all," he said.
James said the contact between business owner and the police officer has increased by 50 percent.
The DDA also launched the Clean Team program partnership with The Lord's Place right around the same time the additional officer was placed downtown. Four members of the team clean up Clematis Street during the week and engage with the homeless by officer resources.
James said the DDA will have more of an idea if calls for service for certain types of issues such as panhandling or trespassing have either decreased, increased, or stayed the same since the additional officer started the 90 day trial period.
"I think 90 days will give us a little bit of a preview, kind of a peek of what we can do and what we can get accomplished," said James.