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Lots of people think downtown Springfield is a great place to spend time with family and friends, especially during the warm months. But is it safe? KSMU’s Samuel Crowe interviewed some local residents, law enforcement, and officials to find out how safe you are in center city.
[NAT SOUND: downtown bar life]
Right now I’m standing at Park Central Square in downtown Springfield. It’s a warm and breezy summer evening, and I see plenty of people milling around. It’s a perfect night for enjoying the nightlife. There’s a laid back vibe, and in talking to people hanging out down here, it’s apparent that most of them feel safe.
PAGEL: "The only way you’re going to get messed up is if you cause problems," he said.
BROWN: "There’s too many people out and about, you know. I feel like there’s always going to be a witness if something happens. And if you’re out a lot, you know everybody. Everybody knows everybody. You know the bouncers, you know the bartenders," she said.
That’s Brad Pagel and Katie Brown. They frequent Icon, a local dance club near the square, and feel secure with the large crowds that fill the streets on weekend nights. Shauna Perkins rides a ricksha downtown, spending her weekend evenings taxiing folks around on her bike. I asked her what she thought about the police presence downtown on the weekends.
PERKINS: "Oh my gosh. Usually, especially around 1, 1:30, there’s a police officer on every block."
CROWE: "What do you think about their presence? Do you think it’s too much?"
PERKINS: "No, I’m really glad for it, for when I’m biking around, to see them. I know not anyone’s going to try anything more, because they’re around, you know."
Corporal Matt Brown is the Public Affairs Officer for the Springfield Police Department. He says the perception that downtown Springfield is safe for the most part aligns with reality.
"When you compare Springfield to other cities nationwide, same size, we rate well below other statistics and other cities for crime index and what we call UCR, Uniform Crime Reporting to the FBI. We’re well below that index. It is a very safe city," Brown said.
This past January, Police Chief Paul Williams instituted two new center city police squads. The result has been a greater number of officers patrolling the streets, especially on weekend nights. This has made the streets safer, Brown says, because something as simple as an officer’s presence will deter crime from being committed.
"We’re extremely pro-active. There’s a difference between pro-active and reactive. Reactive means a crime occurs we just show up, we take the report. We want to prevent it from even occurring. We put officers in and around the area. We have a heavy patrol that moves in and out of the area. We do that so when people go downtown, they feel safe," Brown said.
One of the groups that wants to keep downtown safe is the Springfield Urban Districs Alliance. Rusty Worley has been the Executive Director for about six years. He says the Alliance works with the Hospitality Resource Panel.
"We meet on a monthly basis, and we have about 20 people who meet, and they represent different stakeholder groups. It helps facilitate communication with the bars and restaurants, and police, and the residents so when there are issues, they can work with those issues and deal with them as need be," Worley said.
But Robert Bailey, a 27 year old local musician, isn’t totally convinced that Springfield is as safe as the officials claim it is. His faith in humanity was dented on July 10th, when after playing a show at Nathan P. Murphy’s downtown, he saw a female being assaulted in the parking lot of the bus station.
"She was riding past a group of guys, and one of them had clotheslined her off of her bike and attacked her. I just kind of reacted. I dove in like Batman. Apparently one of them hooked me and knocked me on the ground, and I guess my head hit the concrete, and I guess they got a couple of kicks in, and just sort of knocked me out, and cracked open my head," Bailey said.
Bailey suffered a subdural hematoma, and skull and facial fractures. He has made a remarkably quick recovery since then, but still has some trouble with memory loss, and loud noises bother him. He says a stronger police force on the streets wasn't enough to prevent that group of men from assaulting him and the woman.
"Putting more police officers, putting more cops, making stricter laws doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. It’s never stopped bad people from doing bad things. It just costs money, I guess. More traffic tickets and minor drug violations," Bailey said.
For now, Bailey is focused on preparing for an upcoming east coast tour with his band, The New Monsters Collective. But he remains uneasy about downtown Springfield, remarking that it’s up to the local community to make senseless bullying impossible. A passive society, he says, will only encourage the criminals to keep committing crime, no matter how many police officers patrol streets. For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.