Tower District businesses are hopeful that a new Fresno Police Department report-writing office will offer a more visible police presence – and a greater public perception of safety and security – in their eclectic part of the city.
The department’s Tower Satellite Office on Wishon Avenue north of Olive Avenue opened Wednesday. It marks a return of the department to the neighborhood six years after budget constraints forced police to close its former Central District station at Broadway and Elizabeth avenues. In the intervening years, business owners and residents have lamented the loss of a permanent police presence in the area.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, whose council district includes the Tower District. “Residents spoke loud and clear (in community meetings) that they needed and wanted an additional police presence.”
“We have a lot of people who come from outside and visit from outside (the area), and we want to make sure it’s a safe place not only for the people who live in the neighborhood,” Soria added, “but also for the people that want to visit our businesses and spend a little bit of their money in the area.”
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Residents (in the Tower District) spoke loud and clear that they needed and wanted an additional police presence.
Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria
Felix Musquiz, director of the Tower District Marketing Committee, was pleased to see Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Just having a police presence here, having an identifiable spot where there are officers, where people will see a police vehicle parked out front … is going to have a huge impact,” she said. “This will definitely deter people from committing crimes right in front of a police station.”
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said that since the former Central District station closed in 2011, “we did see an increase in vehicle burglaries, residential burglaries, which (shows) the importance of having a police presence here.” But, he added, that increase reflects a citywide problem created by changing laws at the state level reducing penalties for some drug offenders “that have really decreased accountability for criminals.”
Dyer and Central District commander Capt. Phil Cooley said that the bulk of the crime happening in the Tower District is break-ins to cars and, less frequently, to homes and businesses. “Any neighborhood is susceptible to having property crimes occur,” Dyer said. “Having police officers in this area is naturally going to deter those types of crimes from occurring, and when they do occur, we’ll be able to respond more timely.”
“I can’t tell you that by us not being here that we couldn’t dissuade people from being involved in certain criminal activity,” Dyer said. “But I can tell you that by our presence back here in the Tower, we will deter criminal activity.”
The department revived the Central Police District last year, opening in a new location at Manchester Center a mile or so northeast of the Tower District. More than 80 officers are assigned to the Central District, which includes the Tower area. But Soria and Tower District leaders continued to insist on restoring some sort of police facility to the neighborhood to provide a greater sense of safety.
At least one business blamed Tower District crime – or at least public perceptions about it – as one factor in a decision to close. Margarita Castillo, one of the owners of Castillo’s Mexican Restaurant on Olive Avenue, told The Bee in May that customers from north Fresno said they were fearful about coming to the area.
I think this is really going to help. … I just don’t want people to be afraid to come down here. It’s fun.
Beverly Gable, owner of Frosted Cakery in the Tower District
Musquiz said such fears are overblown. “It’s very much a matter of perception … because we have no more crime than any other neighborhood in Fresno,” she said. “But when it happens in the Tower District, there is a lot more publicity about it.”
But because the area has a very active social media presence, including a Facebook page called “Please Help Stop Crime in the Tower District,” “it can get to be a lot of histrionics about what’s going on,” she added. “I know a lot of businesses might perceive that ‘we’re under siege and we need to leave,’ but it hardly ever comes to fruition. It’s more the smaller businesses that are already struggling (that) end up leaving. I don’t think it’s directly attributable to any specific crime issue.”
While the office won’t be staffed full-time, Dyer said patrol officers and community service officers will be coming in and out of the satellite office to write reports and take breaks. A new bicycle patrol team assigned to the Tower District will also be based in the office. The office also has space to host small community meetings for up to a couple dozen people. “Eventually we do want to staff this full-time, or at least as much as we can, so we can accept walk-in traffic, people who want to report issues to the police department,” Dyer said. “We are well on our way towards that.”
A few storefronts south of the new police office, Frosted Cakery owner Beverly Gable was ecstatic because her shop and other nearby businesses see considerable pedestrian traffic and families coming to and from their stores. Her store has been in its Wishon Avenue location for seven years, and the only crime she’s experienced is minor graffiti.
Gable said she attended nearby Fresno High School and has always been comfortable in the Tower District. “But a lot of times people have a different view of the Tower. … I think the Tower District has gotten kind of a reputation,” she said. “I think this is really going to help. … I just don’t want people to be afraid to come down here. It’s fun.”