Police Chief says downtown one of safest areas of city
By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on August 31, 2008 10:53 AM
Contrary to the impressions reported by a recent survey about Goldsboro's downtown area, city police say statistics show it actually boasts one of the lowest crime rates of any area in the city.
According to the survey, the majority of respondents -- at least 60 percent -- said the area wasn't safe, Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. Director Julie Thompson said.
Goldsboro police Chief Tim Bell said the statistics say otherwise.
"From Jan. 1 up until today, as far as crimes that are reported (to the FBI, there were 3,273 crimes reported throughout the city. (Of those) 103 were reported in the downtown area," he said.
That means that crime -- in that time frame within the downtown area -- accounted for just 0.3 percent of the total number of crimes in Goldsboro, Bell and Operations Maj. Mike Hopper said.
However, respondents to the DGDC survey, which Mrs. Thompson said included mainly employees of downtown businesses, as well as city and county governments, don't seem to believe that.
But Mrs. Thompson said this year's crime stats are no fluke, and that the downtown area has actually ranked within the top three lowest crime areas for the past six years.
"It's perception," Mrs. Thompson said. "The reality of it is that the downtown's very safe."
That's an assessment echoed by the police chief, who wanted to make it clear that his idea of downtown was not just John, William and Center streets.
In compiling his statistics, Bell said, he used William Street as an eastern boundary and Carolina Street to the west, including the historic depot district.
As a northern boundary, the chief used Oak Street, and Elm Street as a boundary to the south.
"That's a pretty big area," he said. "Stats are going to show you that it's still a perception problem."
The chief and his operations major started with the department at the same time -- 26 years ago, with Bell serving many of his early years as a narcotics officer.
Bell said he does not deny that downtown crime was once a problem -- that in fact, many of the historic homes that populate the area were the very homes that he once searched for caches of illegal drugs.
"As a rookie officer, you spend a (significant) amount of time downtown," he said. "We had 'The block,' on James and Pine, clubs and bars that weren't very nice."
"The block" is gone now, but its memory lives on in the daily actions of Goldsboro residents, and perhaps the DGDC's survey respondents, Bell said.
He also noted that many of the multi-family homes pinpointed as high-crime areas have since been converted into less-troublesome single family homes.
The effort has been reportedly positive, and Bell said "(city) council deserves a lot of credit for it."
But as far as a turning point, if one can be named, Bell thinks N.C. Wesleyan College's decision to move downtown in 2001 was a watershed event.
"I was going to Wesleyan as a student at the time, when they made their move to downtown," Bell said. "A lot of people were questioning me, 'Is this going to be safe?'"
Bell said the crime statistics of the past six years speak for themselves, and also pinpointed current city council member Jackie Warrick's tenure as police chief as a time of change.
Bell said that although Warrick played a big role in facilitating change, it was the city as a whole and its leaders and citizens who pulled together and pushed for a cleaner, safer downtown area.
Even with low crime statistics within the downtown area, citizens themselves must take precautions, including locking doors and keeping valuables out of sight, he said.
"I can't ... guarantee anybody's safety. That's just the world we live in. People need to take some responsibility for their own safety -- they need to do it at Wal-Mart, they need to do it at home, anywhere. I still say downtown is one of the safest places in Goldsboro."
But perhaps Bell's biggest endorsement for the downtown area's safety was including his own family in outings there -- and not just special events, the chief said.
"I come downtown and bring my family at 7 p.m., to eat, at night, and it doesn't bother me any," he said.
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