Dover Business Owners Voice Concerns About Nuisance Crimes - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Dover Business Owners Voice Concerns About Nuisance Crimes

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Police cadets in Downtown Dover. Police cadets in Downtown Dover.

DOVER, Del.- The Downtown Dover Partnership's board of directors on Wednesday voted to send a message to city hall: city law enforcement needs a larger presence in the city's downtown commercial corridor.

The group plans to send a letter to city leaders formally indicating support for efforts by Mayor Robin Christiansen to increase foot patrols and the presence of police officers in the downtown area. The move appears to have been precipitated by growing frustrations by merchants over nuisance crimes like loitering, public urination, and other illegal behavior occurring in or near their businesses.

Jonathan Street, a civil designer with the Becker Morgan Group who serves with the partnership's board, said public safety has become a major concern for downtown merchants in recent months.

"I think we should be standing up and screaming at the top of our lungs that something better needs to be done. The status quo of what's been going on for years just isn't acceptable anymore," he said.

The motion carried, despite some opposition from city leaders and officials who serve on the board.

Anita Evans, who works for M&T Bank and serves as the board chairwoman for the downtown partnership, said merchants don't have many options other than calling the police if, for instance, "someone is not properly clothed and talking about inappropriate things to customers."

"It's reactive...Once they're already there and they've scared away your customers it's a little too late," she noted.

In an interview, Evans said she believes simply increasing officers' visibility through increased patrols could ward away would-be criminals.

"We all do it. You slow down if a police officer is behind you. I think more things like that would be helpful in the downtown," she said.

Dover City Councilman Tanner Polce pushed back against the motion and said in an interview that the city is already moving to add more police officers and cadets to its ranks. He also noted that the city council has taken steps to station armed security guards in the city's library.

"The notion that we as council are not supportive of the mayor or the police is slightly frustrating," he said.

Polce also said many of the people committing crimes are dealing with homelessness or conditions like substance abuse disorder or drug addiction, issues he believes won't be solved by simply increasing the number of arrests for nuisance crimes. 

Christiansen said in a phone interview he understood merchants' concerns and promised changes, conceding that some laws "haven't been enforced the way they should have."

"We're trying to develop our downtown area and make it a substantial part of the city. Zero tolerance. We'll do a Rudy Giuliani," he said.

Some believe the issue of public safety in downtown Dover has more to do with perception than reality.

Todd Stonesifer, who owns the Moving Experience the House of Coffi, cautioned board members about how the letter was worded and noted the group's focus on public safety was happening in a public meeting with a WBOC reporter present.

"One of the issues that I believe we've been trying to overcome is 'Oh, downtown is not safe. Downtown is not safe.' Well, I come downtown all the time and I feel safe," he said.

Christiansen said it's clear something needs to be done.

"We're dealing with a situation that people are doing quality of life crimes," he said. "We're going to address that in a different way with zero tolerance."

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