The Johnson City Police Department led a community roundtable today at the Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church. The effort to curb the downtown situation requires support from all stakeholders.
The Question and Answer session at Munsey involves business owners, residents, employees, and everyone impacted by the uptick in crime. Some believe the homeless population to be the problem, while the facts are not supporting that thought.
The problem is not a simple one. Local officials may be able to find solutions by asking the right questions. Stakeholders asking the right questions will also identify gaps and challenges that can be addressed for positive changes.
The city removed furniture in place at the breezeway late last month in an effort to end the excessive loitering of some homeless people. This partially stems from the no-camping ordinance passed a few years ago in an effort to move the homeless population away from frequently visited public areas.
Business owners as a whole, do not believe the homeless are a major problem. The problems exist due to illegal activity and other behaviors which are driving customers away. Drug dealing and overdoses are frequent in the downtown area. EMS and police respond to drug overdoses in the downtown area even while the Farmer's Market is underway - with families shopping in the area.
The police frequently receive complaints from visitors and businesses. These range from people sleeping on sidewalks, to people arguing loudly. We also see people panhandling. It's not the quiet panhandlers that cause an issue, it's the ones who are aggressive and loud.
People coming to visit and shop in the downtown area do not want to step over people sleeping off a drug or drunk-induced slumber, nor do they want to deal with people arguing with them.
Those who violate the law are the problem, not those who happen to spend most of their days downtown. Illegal activity is the concern.
Services to the rescue
There are many draws to the downtown area. It's a good place to hang out - even for the homeless. Services aren't lacking for the homeless. They have access to free meals, shelter, mental health, and substance abuse services. People need these services, and they are readily available - if those in need will only go to them. Not everyone who needs help will want it.
Those who need services aren't necessarily a problem for the businesses or visitors downtown either. It is only the people who would violate the law who are an issue. Those are the people driving away customers, and people who are just there to have a good time.
Many business and community leaders believe the city should return to active community policing. This would work wonders when paired with a community watch program.
“Police presence has proven in the past to be a huge game-changer in this kind of, with this kind of challenge. And that’s the one thing that I would always go to and I would always ask for. I don’t think you can ever get enough of it if it’s feasible to do it.” - Michael Short
Crime in the downtown area has increased, with violence taking its toll. The city has responded to at least five shootings in the downtown area in the past few months. Drugs and alcohol are also rampant in the area.
With some calling to defund the police in parts of the U.S., it does not appear to be the case in Johnson City, Tennessee. The community and its leaders know the police are part of the solution to this dynamic situation. Johnson City is a good place to work and live, but some social maintenance is in order.