Police chief considering added offices downtown

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Police Chief Walter Armstrong said Tuesday he’s looking into establishing a precinct in downtown Vicksburg separate from the headquarters on Veto at Monroe Street.

“We’re in the early discussion stages, but it’s something I definitely would like to see take place inside the new budget year,” Armstrong said about an office, perhaps in the Washington Street shopping area. “This would give us a 24-7 presence, and it’s something we feel would benefit the merchants and residents downtown, as well as the visitors to our city.”  

Armstrong he would like to see the precinct established by the holiday season or the first quarter of 209, but added finances will be play a big role. He said he will not ask for more than the $6.3 million the mayor and aldermen are planning to allocate the department in the fiscal year 2009-10 budget, which begins on Oct. 1. The $6.3 million represents an approximately $193,000 increase in funding from the current budget.

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“Cost is the main factor. We’re going to try to find the money in the budget we’ll be working from,” he said. “We’re going to be looking for the property that’s going to need the least amount of renovation.”

During the administration of former Mayor Robert Walker nearly 10 years ago, the city purchased a former convenience store on Halls Ferry Road in Marcus Bottom and spent significant accounts remodeling and equipping it as the Douglas Park Precinct, but it was closed after less than a year. Otherwise, police have had no substations.

Armstrong said a number of downtown locations are being considered, with rents ranging up from $500 a month. Depending on location, he said costs could be defrayed by sharing office space with the Vicksburg Main Street Program.

Members of the Vicksburg Main Street Program Board of Directors spent 45 minutes of their monthly meeting Tuesday discussing security downtown, and all agreed a downtown precinct would be beneficial.

“It’s calm as long as we have a police presence,” said Robert Ware, board member and owner of The Ware House entertainment complex on Washington Street. “We made (downtown) safe, and now it’s going the other way… and unless the city reacts there’s going to be serious issues.”

Main Street Program Director Kim Hopkins added: “Everyone downtown is concerned.”

Armstrong said the idea for a downtown precinct came about because of increased loitering there over the past several weeks, as well as an increased interest in opening late-night bars and restaurants. In addition, downtown is expecting a surge of new residents as renovations on both The Valley and Super 10 buildings on Washington Street will open more than 30 upscale apartments and condominiums.

The chief said a downtown precinct could be staffed in the daytime by a handful of “community service officers” — citizens without arresting powers who serve as a liaison between the community and department — with assistance from one or two uniformed officers. Two such citizen-officers are on the staff currently, and Armstrong said that number could increase to half a dozen if the new precinct is established. 

“They would be there mainly during the day to meet the residents and merchants to see if they have any needs or concerns,” he said of the community service offices. “In addition to that, we’d likely have one officer patroling downtown on a bicycle during the day and then maintain a higher number of officers at night.”


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com