Police chief says increased patrols lead to safer downtown area

Tony Casey • May 16, 2014 at 10:39 AM

Johnson City Police Department Chief Mark Sirois reported back to the City Commission on Thursday night that an increased police presence in the downtown area was a successful endeavor.

The goal set out by JCPD forces through the Targeted Community Crime Reduction Project was, in essence, a long-term reduction in crime in the downtown and Mountain Home regions of Johnson City. With numbers on hand, Sirois showed that total arrests in April hit 42 overall, compared to 32 the previous month in the targeted areas that came through 53 special details, 31 more than March. Officers who logged overtime hours during the focus were often paid with dollars put aside by the TCCRP in conjunction with a federal grant.

Commissioner Jenny Brock wanted to know if the increased presence affected businesses.

“We look at it and they do, too, as a partnership,” Sirois said about his officers’ cooperation with downtown business owners. “We’re on the same page.”

Through police on bicycles, direct and saturation patrols, undercover work, bar checks, active engagement with the business owners and generally having increased visibility in certain areas has yielded success where it was needed since mid-March, Sirois said.

He said one process used would be to have a zero tolerance policy in certain areas, which helps getting things moving to clean up entire neighborhoods. The idea of using TCCRP money for a camera system is also in the works.

All in all, Sirois said from 2012 to 2013, there was a 27 percent reduction in overall crime downtown but a 4 percent increase in violent crime. Other items of note were a 50 percent decrease in vandalism reports and a 116 percent uptick in arrests for drug possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Moving forward, Vice Mayor Clayton Stout asked for numbers on where those committing crime live, if they’re from Johnson City or outside areas.

Representatives from Mountain States Health Alliance were on hand to report health insurance numbers for Johnson City employees. Josh Davis, a regional manager for MSHA, said an increase in awareness from employees in regards to their body mass index and other risk factors, brought forth by employees working with provided health coaches, ultimately helps save the city about $158,000 per year.

“As a group, you’re doing great,” Davis told the commissioners.

The savings come through the coaches, who are recommended for those in the city, and their spouses, who are alerted during a physical assessment of risk factors that could include high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, or general obesity.

Brock, who wanted one common theme that stood out most across the 1,956 participants, was told by Davis that they should concern themselves with respective BMI numbers and that any increase in exercise and moving more would have positive changes over several risk factors.

Though the numbers were positive, Brock said she understands similar programs need upward of six years for the full impact, though Johnson City is just a few years into its program.

Brock said the best news might be coming in the realm of health care premiums for city employees and their spouses.

“We’re probably not going to put forth any increases in premiums this year,” Brock said.

Stout summed it up as a good thing for all involved.

“It seems like it’s a win-win for both organizations,” Stout said.

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