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Downtown Substation increasing safety for visitors, shop owners in Thomasville

Posted at 6:22 PM, Jan 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-17 18:22:07-05

Panhandling, shoplifting and counterfeit money. These concerns were raised to authorities by some Thomasville businesses last year.

Now a new substation downtown is increasing police presence, reducing crime and also providing growth opportunity for the future of downtown Thomasville.

"People to not want to come in and stay and shop as much or they would feel uncomfortable out on the sidewalk when they would leave the store," said Kelli Barnes, owner of Spence and Lane Boutique.

Barnes said panhandlers sleeping on benches and asking people for money would keep shoppers from coming into her store off Broad Street.

Now with a new downtown officer patrolling the area, she said she doesn't have to worry about it anymore. "Now that we have the presence of Joey patrolling the streets, everybody is much more comfortable," said Barnes.

Joey Blackburn, the new downtown officer for the Thomasville Police Department Substation, said he would regularly see around 20 panhandlers when he first started patrolling the area. After giving out warnings and trespassing citations, he said that number has gone down since November.

"I don't know if word got out, which I'm sure people communicate, so word gets out, and they'll know there's going to be zero tolerance," said Blackburn.

It's a change that brings a bit of relief to Bonnie Hayes, the Director for Tourism Development for City of Thomasville.

She said having Officer Blackburn's presence increases safety not only for local businesses, but tourists as well. "Our visitors can freely walk during the day and the night back and forth from the downtown to the area, our parking area, and feel super safe and we just have a sense of relief having him here," said Hayes.

When it comes to protecting shoppers and visitors, Blackburn says "just to know that I guess I'm the one making a difference for them because I'm the face of the police department for the downtown merchants."

Making a difference through the substation. That's what Hayes said is a step in the right direction for future growth of the downtown area.

"You see a police car and then you see a police officer and then you look around and it definitely would give you a sense of comfort and you would know, okay if I want to bring a business here, you know they've got a police presence that's readily and handily available," said Hayes.

Blackburn said that he is the only officer assigned to the downtown substation right now, but as the area continues to grow and more businesses come in, they'll likely add more officers.