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Gainesville Police ramp up downtown presence
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Gainesville Police Officer Mike Hand walks through downtown Gainesville Tuesday, April 2, 2019, while on duty. GPD has a five-officer unit responsible for community policing downtown and in the surrounding parks. - photo by Scott Rogers

As the weather warms, Gainesville police have increased their presence in the downtown square and midtown.

Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish added three officers to the community relations unit headed by Sgt. Kevin Holbrook. This five-officer unit is responsible for community policing downtown and in the surrounding parks. 

Holbrook said the downtown unit will ramp up this week.

“Because of the dynamics downtown between business, residents and merchants, it takes a special relationship with those entities to make sure police services are done appropriately. It can’t be done from a vehicle. It’s got to be done on foot, on bike, golf carts, those kinds of things,” Parrish said.

The community policing unit will cover downtown and midtown, stretching from Bradford Street to Industrial Boulevard, as well as work along trails in the area, including the Midtown Greenway that winds behind the police department on Queen City Parkway. 

From his initial interactions with those downtown, Holbrook said the response is that it’s a “positive step given the growth downtown.”

When formulating his plan, Parrish said he consulted with a sergeant at the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, which has a downtown substation.

The heightened police presence started this week.

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Gainesville Police Officer Mike Hand walks through downtown Gainesville Tuesday, April 2, 2019, while on duty. Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish added three officers to the community relations unit headed by Sgt. Kevin Holbrook. This five-officer unit is responsible for community policing downtown and in the surrounding parks. - photo by Scott Rogers

“One of their first missions they’ll have is to go around to the different merchants and all, hand out business cards and have those face-to-face conversations,” Parrish said.

Holbrook said the unit’s physical presence can be a crime deterrent as well as taking a proactive approach to any concerns.

“We want to curb any issues or problems before they do come to light,” he said.

Avocados’ assistant manager Bud Whelchel said he has not encountered many issues that would prompt police presence other than the occasional interactions with the homeless.

“They used to come and try to bother our customers and stuff, and we have to tell them to keep moving,” he said.

Aimee Hoecker, co-owner of Downtown Drafts, said she hopes the dedicated team in downtown will mean greater safety for those working in that district.

“Sometimes our employees have to walk a long way late at night, and I know a lot of other restaurant employees have to do the same,” she said.

In the past, Hoecker said police have generally been great at responding when issues arise.