News and Tribune

Police & Fire News

April 2, 2014

A nonviolent approach: Jeffersonville, Clarksville officials talk safety near Big Four Bridge

Recent violent acts in downtown Louisville concern Southern Indiana residents

JEFFERSONVILLE — Recent violence near the Louisville side of the Big Four Bridge has sparked conversations about safety in Southern Indiana, but Jeffersonville officials say residents shouldn’t worry when headed to riverside attractions.

“I want people to recognize that Jeffersonville is a safe place for a family. I want specifically females to feel safe,” Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said. “It’s our park, it’s our bridge, it’s our community, and we’re going to keep it that way and we’re going to keep it safe.”

On March 22, a violent mob of teenagers attacked and injured multiple people in downtown Louisville at Waterfront Park, the Big Four Bridge and points south, according to Louisville media sources. Several arrests in relation to the incident have been made, and Louisville Metro Police are continuing to investigate the situation.

Moore said his city will be ready to mitigate any possible crime immediately when the bridge opens, which is schedule for April 30.

“I think this is extremely important for us to send that message out now. Violence won’t be tolerated,” he said. “Kids do dumb things and they do dumb things when they don’t see authority around.”

To prepare for potential crime, Todd Hollis, Jeffersonville Police Department detective, said JPD will have specialized patrol for the bridge and surrounding areas during peak times of traffic.

“We have been planning our patrols from the bridge opening for quite some time, now,” Hollis said. “We anticipate there is going to be a big increase in foot traffic and bike traffic in that area.”

Hollis said JPD is considering the organization of a bicycle patrol for the Big Four Station area.

Police have started a discourse with area residents and business owners in regards to safety issues that may arise after the opening of the bridge, Hollis said.

Moore said some patrols will increase and officers will work overtime once the bridge opens.

“We recognize there’s going to be a whole new influx of people coming into our city. We’re taking steps to ensure people feel safe when they come over to Indiana,” he said.

Jeffersonville City Councilman Nathan Samuel, the council’s liaison for the police department, said communication among city departments and officials is crucial in creating a strong force against crime near the bridge.

“[The plan] would be to connect with our chief, find out what strategies, what ideas, what thought he would have in his department,” Samuel said.

He mentioned at the Parks Authority meeting March 28 using Local Option Income Tax dollars that are allocated for public safety to put in security cameras near the mouth of the bridge and ramp.

“We’ll find the necessary dollars to make sure the Big Four landing is safe to the best of our ability,” he told the News and Tribune in an interview Monday. “You can’t guard against every occasion or every occurrence.”

He said he plans to speak with Police Chief Chris Grimm and other officials about security cameras — or any other measures they may suggest — and come up with the best solutions.

Hollis said in addition to security measures the city is taking, residents are encouraged to practice personal safety.

“We always recommend to people, no matter where they are, to keep their own safety in mind,” he said. “We always tell people try to do their best to be aware of their surroundings at all times, be aware of your loved ones at all times, and if you see anything suspicious, of course, contact the police.”

CLARKSVILLE’S PLAN

Because the Big Four Bridge connects to the Ohio River Greenway, Clarksville Police Chief Mark Palmer said police there have assessed how the pedestrian bridge opening will affect the town.

“Everything has been looked at,” Palmer said. “What we have done, on our side, is an increase in patrol and stepping up our appearance in that area, so people will realize that the police are going to be in that area.”

Palmer said the department has also assigned a parks officer that will specifically patrol the park area along Riverside Drive.

“We are hoping with all this visual deterrent in place, it will let people know that the police are present, and we are going to be monitoring what is going on,” he said.

A recent change from 8- to 12-hour shifts for CPD officers will allow for the increased patrol without regularly paying for overtime hours, he said.

“We have been able to increase our manpower on the street by 30 percent,” he said. “This has given us additional officers to use on special details or assignments.”

He said CPD will saturate the park area with patrol immediately after the opening of the pedestrian bridge, and will then assess how much patrol is needed. Palmer does expect to always provide increased patrol during special events, such as big attractions at the KFC Yum! Center, that may bring extra people to the area.

Mutual agreements between police departments in Clarksville, Jeffersonville and New Albany provide each department with reinforcements if an incident requires extra manpower.

“We know there are problems coming across that bridge, and we are hoping to be ready for them before they start escalating,” Palmer said.

THE GREENWAY

Shaunna Graf, project coordinator for the Ohio River Greenway Commission, said completed parts of the greenway are well-lit.

“Safety is of the utmost concern to everyone involved,” she said of the greenway.

Graf advises using common sense when using the greenway’s paths, including locking car doors and keeping valuable possessions in cars out of sight.

“I feel safe walking on the greenway when it’s during the day,” she said. “When it’s during the night, I always make sure I bring someone with me.”

The CPD also has plans in place to keep safe sections of the Ohio River Greenway Project that spread through Clarksville.

Palmer said the department has four all terrain vehicles to assists officers patrolling the pathway.

“They have been equipped with lights and racks for transporting equipment,” he said. “We even have a double-seater in case arrests are made and people can be transported from those areas off the walkway path to where a patrol car can pick them up.”

PUBLIC SENTIMENT

Despite recent questions concerning safety, people using the greenway during Tuesday’s warm weather say they will not be deterred from using the greenway or Big Four Bridge.

Jeffersonville resident Gina Ohlmann, who took her granddaughter to a playground on the greenway, said she’s still practicing the same safe techniques she always has and doesn’t feel threatened.

“I keep a close eye on her,” she said of her 5-year-old granddaughter. “ ... If I saw a group of [suspicious] kids, I’d get in the car and leave.”

Ohlmann said she believes the incident in Louisville was isolated and knows that crime can happen anywhere.

“I don’t think there’s anything worse over here than over there,” she said. “You just have to be aware of your surroundings.”

Many Southern Indiana and Louisville residents showed their opposition to the violence when hundreds participated in a unity walk Saturday on the Louisville side of the Big Four Bridge. Moore said that although some may still be weary to use the bridge, the well-attended event was a good sign.

“I was encouraged by that. It was a very large crowd of people, a lot of 50 and older people who refused to be victims,” Moore said. “I thought that was very strong statement.”

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