Police and ‘ambassadors’ on downtown streets during holidays

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Police officers David Williams (left) and Barry Rizk will walk downtown streets during the holiday season.

The Downtown Partnership and the Colorado Springs Police Department are teaming up to make downtown more inviting during the holiday season.

Patrol officers will walk the streets four days a week and groups of volunteers called ambassadors will be on hand to answer shoppers’ questions about parking, gift buying and restaurants.

Officers Barry Rizk and David Williams were reassigned to the downtown beat Nov. 9 after the city ended the red-light camera enforcement program.

From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday the two will walk the streets between Rio Grande Court on the south to Boulder Street on the north and Sierra Madre Street on the west to Wahsatch Avenue to the east.

It’s a throw-back to the days of community policing, where the officers become a part of the fabric of the community and everyone knows them, said Downtown Partnership president Ron Butlin.

In a span of 10 minutes and within just half a block on North Tejon Street, three business owners or operators approached the pair of officers to thank them for their presence.

“I think it’s wonderful they’re down here,” said Fancy Pheasant owner Susan Godec. “We really need patrol around here.”

She asked the officers if they would be keeping an eye on the population in Acacia Park across the street from her shop. She said she sometimes becomes concerned with lingering groups of homeless people there.

It’s a public park and while there is no reason for police to shoo people out during daytime operating hours, they will regularly walk through the center square, they said.

Dru Drury, who owns Eye Caliber Sunglasses, told the officers he was grateful to have them downtown and complained about skateboarders.

One of the managers from the Acacia Apartments across Platte Place from the park ran over when he spotted the officers to find out what they were doing.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Rizk said. “It seems like people really want this.”

When officers aren’t walking the beat, they’ll patrol the area by car, as other officers will Friday through Sunday.

Police Lt. James Rigdon said a pair of officers will walk the downtown beat through the holiday season, even if it isn’t Rizk and Williams.

“There really has been a push to increase the vibrancy of downtown and really make it a place where not only business people want to be, but where shoppers and patrons feel comfortable,” Rigdon said.

“We’ll mostly be handling aggressive pan-handling,” Rizk said, “and I know one of the biggest issues business owners have told us about is skateboarders and cyclists on the sidewalks.”

They also intend to curb public drinking, intoxication and urination, some of the more common complaints from businesses.

Starting on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and one of the busiest shopping days of the year, the downtown ambassadors will take to the streets.

The ambassadors are volunteers recruited by the police and fire departments.

The 16 ambassadors completed training this week, said Jean Kraus, police volunteer coordinator.

“We envision the largest part of their job being to greet people and ask how they can be of assistance, asking about parking, locating restaurant and shops,” Kraus said. “This is not an enforcement program.”

The volunteers will walk the streets downtown from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. They’ll work in teams and sign up for two-hour shifts. Kraus said working in teams will make the job more fun for volunteers and they will be able to sign up for back-to-back two-hour turns.

Volunteers range from college students to retirees, Kraus said.

“This is a pilot program that will last through the holiday season with the vision that it will become a permanent program,” Kraus said. “We’d like to expand and replicate it in other areas of the city.”

Butlin said the ambassadors and officers will add to the welcoming feeling the Partnership is trying to foster.

Weekend street parking will be free throughout the month of December, Butlin said. The holiday lights will switch on the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Carolers will sing in the streets next month.