Featured photo: Assistant Chief Katie Allen told city councilmembers that they would like to have the fourth district up and running by next summer. (screenshot)
Winston-Salem will soon have a new police district, bringing the total for the city up from three to four.
During Monday’s Public Safety committee meeting, city leaders heard the Winston-Salem Police Department’s plan to incorporate portions of Districts One and Three into a fourth police district, but the final boundaries are still being explored. Staffing numbers haven’t been finalized yet either. No officers will be pulled from District Two.
Neighboring Greensboro has four police districts compared to Winston-Salem’s three; the cities are of similar size with Winston-Salem covering 134.7 square miles of ground while Greensboro spreads 136.7 square miles.
Winston-Salem’s West End neighborhood is currently spliced into Districts One and Three — with the change, it’ll be wholly under District Four’s purview. West Salem, Happy Hill and Washington Park will also be part of the fourth district. WSPD’s Downtown Bike Patrol will manage the downtown business district.
Calls in this proposed district have increased since 2013 — save for the years of the pandemic from 2020-22. The average call volume for this area over the past 10 years levels out to 30,893 calls for service. This area had 37,379 calls for service during one of those years.
Northwest Ward Councilmember Jeff MacIntosh noted that as the city leans into community-oriented policing, he feels that having officers patrol a smaller area and know it well will pay off in the long run.
“Knowing the actors, knowing the players, recognizing people on the street. I think that same advantage will accrue to all four districts,” MacIntosh said.
Assistant Chief Katie Allen said they would like to have the fourth district up and running by next summer. Allen heads WSPD’s Field Services Bureau, which includes the Patrol Division and Special Operations Division.
Southeast Ward Councilmember James Taylor, Jr. asked Allen to bring the topic back to council in January so they can take a look at the revised map and staffing numbers.
What does the area look like right now?
The prospective fourth police district will cover downtown, which has seen a 44 percent increase in population in the last 10 years, compared to a city-wide growth of roughly 10 percent. But they’re still staffing that area the same way they’ve always staffed it, Assistant Chief Allen said. There are 5,500 residential units in downtown alone.
WSPD’s Downtown Bike Patrol is a “little bit understaffed, but they are very effective in what they do downtown,” Allen said. While there is at least one officer patrolling the streets at all times, some public safety positions are majorly understaffed according to Allen.
Downtown Bar Patrol has officers patrolling from 9 p.m.-3 a.m. On average, 48 of 104 available shifts are filled each month. Additionally, Downtown Foot Patrol has four positions that cover shifts from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and two positions from 3 p.m.- 9 p.m. On average, 120 of 168 available shifts are filled each month.
Allen said that District One’s captain spends a “substantial amount of time focusing on downtown.”
“This will allow the District One captain to focus on District One tasks, and the District Four captain to really focus on this area,” Allen said.
This change will improve efficiency and make it easier for officers to get from point A to point B, according to city staff.
For example, if a call is made to an area, and that area’s designated beat officer is tied up on a call, another officer from the district is dispatched. Sometimes they’re far away.
“That is a huge footprint that they have to cover,” Allen said.
East Ward Councilmember Annette Scippio mentioned that the needs of unhoused people in the city are increasing, many of whom live downtown. The city’s BEAR Team helps address mental health needs and has been helpful to the unhoused population as an alternative to police, staff said.
“Having a unified effort between the police force and the BEAR Team is just gonna help those who are in need a lot,” Scippio said.
Samaritan’s Ministries, Bethesda Center, Salvation Army, Rescue Mission and Cities with Dwellings will be part of District Four.
According to research by the RAND corporation, police often are the first — and sometimes sole — point of government contact for people experiencing homelessness. Between 2012-15, Dallas police issued more than 11,000 sleeping-in-public citations, along with 2,000 citations for panhandling in 2015.
Law enforcement often lacks the tools and resources to address the underlying causes of homelessness; the BEAR Team and other social service providers can offer alternative support.
WSPD expects that response time will improve substantially to all areas of the city as the addition of a new district reallocates officers to a smaller concentrated area. This will offer closer connections to service providers such as the BEAR team, the Continuum of Care, shelters and more.
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