Featured photo: WSPD’s Assistant Police Chief Katie Allen addresses councilmembers on Jan. 16 (WSTV screenshot)
Winston-Salem could have a new police district by this summer.
The police department is restructuring to offer more service downtown, an area which has had an increase in calls for service. The department introduced the idea to city councilmembers in December.
The new district —District Four — won’t require any additional funding and will be housed out of the main police department 725 N. Cherry St.
The district’s ground covers four percent of the city’s total footprint, but accounts for 14 percent of the overall calls. Total calls for service per square mile in District Four are four times higher than any other district. This area also generates 11 percent of Part 1 crimes such as homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. In 2022, there were 1,482 Part 1 crimes committed in the District Four area, which covers five square miles. In contrast, District One — 43.6 square miles of the northern, eastern and western parts of the city — saw 3,954 Part 1 crimes, while District Two — 41.9 square miles in the east and south — clocked 3,675. District Three — 43.3 square miles to the south and west — saw 4,020. In terms of total calls for service in 2022, District One clocked 53,783, District Two received 53,157 and District Three saw 53,562. The five square miles of District Four raked in 25,679 calls for service.
Creation of the new area will take calls away from Districts One and Three. The number of patrol officers citywide will not change, and no officers will be pulled from the District Two footprint. The Winston-Salem Police Department currently has four platoons: two day shift and two night shift platoons, with an average of 51 officers per platoon.
“It’s just pulling the calls in and kind of creating that specialized footprint,” WSPD’s Assistant Police Chief Katie Allen told city councilmembers on Tuesday.
Allen said that it’s her goal to have the new district “up and running by summer.”
WSPD states that this will “reorganize resources with more similar call types and constituent concerns to provide more efficient service and potentially reduce travel/response times to non-emergency calls.
“Looking at our calls for service and how we respond, we believe operationally this is the best way to meet the needs of the citizens of the city,” Allen said.
‘Do what’s right for downtown’
While this change won’t require council approval, councilmembers weighed in on Tuesday.
East Ward councilmember Annette Scippio mentioned that there are a “lot of people” who believe that the city has “given a lot of attention to downtown” and that this area gets more resources than other parts of the city.
“However, we were intentional, over 20 years ago, to revitalize downtown, and with that came lots of businesses and people living there,” Scippio said.
“There’s a lot of activity going on downtown, particularly at night,” she added, noting that the city council cannot “legislate people’s behavior.”
“And there has been a significant increase in bad behavior, particularly at our bars,” she said.
From Thirsty Pallet Bar’s rowdy brawl involving dozens in September to a shooting that injured five people at Spot Bar and Lounge in November, violence has littered Winston-Salem’s lively nightlife scene.
Downtown bar patrol has officers monitoring activity from 9 p.m.-3 a.m.
On average, 48 of 104 available shifts are filled each month, per data presented in December.The downtown bar patrol is staffed about 60 percent of the time, Allen said on Tuesday.
“One of our biggest challenges right now as an agency is we have a lot of extra duty opportunities and they’re just not getting filled,” Allen added.
The creation of this new police district falls in line with other changes that have arrived downtown in the last few months.
In December, Winston-Salem Transit Authority changed their rules to address loitering and behavior at the bus station downtown, eliciting a range of reactions from citizens — some were concerned that unhoused people would be targeted by the new rules while others approved of the change because it might make downtown “safer.” During a public comment period in October, resident and local business owner Jay Pierce thanked the city for “working on the problems at the bus station.”
“There’s a lot of things going on downtown…violent acts, guns being fired, sexual assaults,” Pierce said. “As a stakeholder downtown operating a business, I feel that there can be more things done to provide a safe environment for people to enjoy businesses in downtown Winston-Salem. I think we all have a stake in a safer downtown.”
Southwest Ward councilmember Kevin Mundy, who is not seeking reelection in 2024, added on Tuesday that downtown business benefits the city as a whole, noting that it puts “heads in beds” and “butts in seats.” If they “don’t curtail the violent behavior,” people won’t plan meetings in Winston-Salem anymore, he said.
“One of the first things they look at is, what’s the crime rate in the area? They don’t want to put their people in harm’s way,” he said.
Mundy noted that they have to “do what’s right for downtown.”
“Not only for our own citizens’ safety, but for the safety of our visitors and the long-term health of our downtown economic engine,” he concluded.
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