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West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority steps in to pay for additional officer downtown

Posted at 5:46 PM, Apr 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-17 19:48:58-04

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is stepping up to increase police presence on Clematis Street.

In just over a month, there have been two violent stabbings, shots fired, and an assault in and around Clematis Street.

They want more officers and they are willing to pay for them. 

When the crowds are thin on Clematis Street, it may be easier to spot a police officer."

Guys on Segways, or walking, or bicycles. We change it up," said Captain Joseph Ahern. 

But when the foot traffic increases, there's less visibility and more concern. 

"I've been here 25 years. I've never seen people get stabbed while they are having dinner, attacked while they are riding their bike along Flagler Drive, it's unheard of and it's getting out of line," said Russ Griffin, owner of Finer Optics on Clematis Street.  

The Downtown Development Authority is fighting for more police officers downtown, but they want action now and voted to add and pay for another officer to work overtime downtown. 

"Whether crime is up or down, perception is affected by many things and visible law enforcement, visible security is a very important component of helping the public feel and understand that our city is a safe place," said Raphael Clemente, Executive Director of the DDA. 

Griffin's business is just doors down from Sushi Yama where a woman was stabbed by a homeless man while dining outside last month. "We've got incidents I've never seen before," said Griffin.

Kong Phanley was horrified.

He manages the restaurant and says ever since, he's been policing his own business.

"I have to be out here to protect my customer, that's not my job," said Phanley. 

Police say crime downtown is down, but the DDA says that's not how it feels. "It's a perception thing, you get two incidents that hit the media, it seems like there is a spike in crime," said Captain Ahern. 

Officers are already assigned to work downtown every day and more are added during peak hours. 

"When we talk about downtown, we're talking about anywhere from Banyan to Okeechobee, from the train station, and all the way to the waterfront so it's a pretty geographical large area that they're covering," added Captain Ahern.  

But the DDA wants more presence specifically on Clematis Street to keep its stakeholders and customers safe and they're going to pay for it. 

"If people are behaving in a way that's incompatible with the District, they want the behavior dealt with," added Clemente.

The position will be filled as soon as possible.

After 90 days the DDA board will review if the added overtime detail helped reduced crime or calls for help.