Olympia police will expand the downtown walking patrol this summer as part of an ongoing effort to boost public safety and reduce crime.
Starting in early May and running through September, two officers will cover an additional 10-hour night shift that will operate 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Downtown Olympia attracts more visitors and disorderly activity during the summer months, especially at night, police say. The extra patrol is intended to supplement the daytime walking patrol, in which at least one officer covers downtown — either on foot or on bike — from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.
This year’s summertime expansion goes a step further. Last year’s extra patrol shift ran 5-9 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and was covered by whichever officers were available for overtime work, said Lt. Paul Lower.
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In 2015, two officers will be temporarily assigned to the nighttime walking patrol for the entire summer. The Olympia City Council allocated $40,000 for the extra patrol in both 2014 and 2015.
“You’re going to start to see them down here even more this year,” Lower said Friday during an hour-long safety discussion hosted by the Olympia Downtown Association as part of its Downtown Academy series.
A couple dozen downtown business owners and employees attended Friday’s program, which featured representatives from the Olympia Police Department, Washington State Patrol and Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office.
Police Chief Ronnie Roberts said the department’s primary goal is to continue building relationships with the downtown community and provide a presence that discourages bad behavior.
Police said a particular hotspot for trouble has been the Artesian Commons, home of the historic artesian well. People from all over the community routinely fill their water bottles at the well, which at one time was a major source of drinking water downtown.
However, the tiny park at 415 Fourth Ave. W. also doubles as a de facto hub for the street community. Since opening in May 2014, the park has seen a 63 percent spike in arrests for crimes such as drinking in public, disorderly conduct and assault, according to police data. The park has also generated complaints about smoking, drug use, vandalism and other behaviors.
In response, the city will pursue several initiatives and improvements this year, such as fencing, recreational activities and creation of a committee that would help with the park’s management.
“We can’t walk away from it,” Roberts said about the Artesian Commons. “We have to figure out how to fix it.”
Support for the park’s future extends beyond city officials to include park users, outreach workers and business owners.
Some have criticized the city for creating the park’s current conditions in the first place. In fact, an online petition with 224 signatures (as of Friday) is calling for the city to cancel plans for a fence on the park’s southern edge. City staff say the fence offers one way to close the park at night and reduce unwelcome behaviors.
“This short-sighted solution will only push that behavior onto the other side of the fence or out into the downtown community,” according to the petition. “The park needs recreation, benches and signage that reflects our community values. The rest is up to us.”