LDC makes early pitch for downtown security

The Local Development Council (LDC) is urging officials within City Hall and the Tacoma Police Department (TPD) to show support for efforts made and money spent on the downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA), according to a discussion during the Sept. 8 Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting. Specifically, the LDC wants the city and the police department to provide quick and consistent response to security issues, visible support for BIA security personnel on patrol, and recognition of the financial contributions of downtown ratepayers, according to a presentation made during the meeting Thursday.

“As more and more residential units move downtown, cleanliness and security becomes more important,” said LDC board member Ted Johnson. “The BIA has certainly enhanced the value and interest of downtown Tacoma.”

The LDC — a private and non-profit corporation composed of ratepayers and business people from the 84-block downtown business district — formed the BIA in 1988 to provide additional security, maintenance, and marketing services downtown. Since that time, the BIA has been credited with successfully reducing crime, improving perceptions of personal safety, and enhancing the city center’s streets and sidewalks. In 1998, property owners in the area voted to renew the district for another 10-year period. The BIA operates on an annual budget of $750,000, which is paid by business owners downtown.

The request for support comes at a time when concerns over security presence from private BIA patrol officers, as well as back-up support from TPD, remains an issue downtown.

Earlier this year, TPD announced it would reduce the number of patrol officers downtown from four to two, in order to meet emergency service needs in other parts of the city. The move concerned downtown business owners, as well as several members of the city council, who argued that the BIA needed support from law enforcement officers in order to continue to do its job.

“I can’t agree with them more,” said TPD Chief Don Ramsdell, during the committee meeting. “Our issue is in regards to staffing. We are at a bare minimum.” According to the chief, the department has vacancies for 13 police officers, and has had difficulty finding qualified applicants to fill the positions. Additionally, 15 officers are presently off duty for illness or military service, and 16 officers are still in the process of completing their field training programs.

“The problem is not money,” added Ramsdell. “The problem is finding enough bodies.”

LDC staffer Ellis said that TPD support was essential for deterring crime downtown. While BIA officers can patrol the area and report crime, they cannot make arrests. “Without strong police presence that is predictable and reliable,” said Ellis, “we’re putting those BIA patrol officers at risk, and they can’t do their jobs. Without consistent, clear, and timely backup from TPD, it tends to erode the value of the BIA officers.”

Ramsdell told the committee that TPD would reinstate two officers downtown effective Nov. 1.

“There are a lot of issues on the table and pressures on the chief right now,” said Mayor Bill Baarsma.

“I’ve seen Tacoma come into its own,” said Terry Brown, an employee of Regence Blue Shield downtown and LDC board member. He cautioned against scaling back security and failing to support the BIA. “A lot of people had doubts about Tacoma based upon security. Perception is everything. You see those patrol officers on bikes, and that is a security blanket. Their presence alone sets the tone.”

The LDC is expected to decide whether to continue with the BIA when their agreement expires in 2008. According to LDC staffer Paul Ellis, the board unanimously supports the BIA.