Wednesday, July 22, 2009

22 JUL 09: Columbus Blue and Trust

Why didn't someone think of this before? The Columbus police chief announced Tuesday the department will put a new precinct inside a bank. Hopefully the local option sales tax revenues will be stored there -- so officers can borrow from a famous bandit and say: "We're at the bank because that's where the money is."

Columbus Police will set up an East Precinct next year at a new Columbus Bank and Trust building on Buena Vista Road, near Wal-Mart. And here's the amazing thing - CB&T will pay to build it. The recession must be over in Columbus, when a bank doesn't have to ask the government for a bailout.

CB&T will charge the city one dollar a year, to have a police precinct in its new branch. Mayor Jim Wetherington paid the dollar personally at a news conference - potentially fouling up every audit of sales tax records for July.

Police Chief Ricky Boren said the new East Precinct will be the base for at least 25 new police officers, along with a Command Sergeant. If anyone tries to rob the CB&T branch attached to it, he'll instantly win our award for Dumbest Criminal of the Year.

The idea of neighborhood police precincts in Columbus really isn't new. Several officers have been stationed at the Frank Chester Recreation Center on Benning Drive for years. Well, at least patrol cars have been parked there - but officers apparently never noticed gangs tagging the walls of the racquetball courts across the driveway.

City officials revealed another new precinct is planned in north Columbus, in the area of Williams Road and Veterans Parkway. So who would like to build that precinct? Would there be too much controversy if it shared space with Dunkin Donuts?

This kind of public-private police partnership admittedly is new to me. The Atlanta Police have "mini-precincts" at shopping centers such as Underground and Lenox Square. But I think the malls were there before the precincts were - and I doubt any of the officers acted like Kevin James in that "Mall Cop" movie.

But an online check Tuesday night showed Atlanta Police have a new mini-precinct on the grounds of a hospital. We noticed there's still no law office on the grounds, for faster filing of malpractice suits....

There are two schools of thought when it comes to a partnership like this. The city will save sales tax money, by having a bank pay for a precinct. Columbus Bank and Trust also will save money - because it won't have to hire security guards for one branch.

But I can hear the skeptics now, calling this a "sweetheart deal." They'll ask if Columbus Bank and Trust will get special treatment in police investigations -- especially considering corrupt former police officer Shatoya Wright once was a teller at Wachovia.

We searched online to see if other cities have police precincts in banks, or attached to them. We didn't find any - but we were surprised to find Phoenix has six precincts. Columbus is a much smaller city, yet apparently soon will have at least four. So is crime in Columbus that bad? Or does Phoenix have fewer traffic jams than visitors have claimed it does?

THE BIG BLOG QUESTION about public safety closed Tuesday night - and nine out of ten voters say Columbus does NOT need a city Crime Prevention Director. In light of Tuesday's news, maybe CB&T President Steve Melton can do it in his spare time.

One voter in our non-scientific poll wondered if the Crime Prevention Director might be "used as a political weapon" to "circumvent the normal police investigatory process." I'm not sure how someone focused on prevention would get in the way of investigations -- unless he shows up to talk drug dealers out of a sting operation.

Let's lock up the police jokes now, and see what else made news on Tuesday....

+ The low temperature in Columbus broke a 62-year record, at 61 degrees F. It was SO LOW that Columbus State University art students said "cool" to each other, and were NOT talking about artwork.

+ Harris County Commissioner Charles Wyatt withdrew a proposed resolution to stop buying General Motors and Chrysler vehicles. Wyatt says he's upset with the federal government intervening with those companies. I assume he also voted against using county money at the Northwest Harris County Industrial Park -- since after all, some of the Kia suppliers are from Asia.

(Emanuel Jones staged a protest outside the meeting with several Legacy Chevrolet employees. But if that little girl from the commercials wasn't there, can you really trust what they say?)

+ Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue called on public school teachers to take three furlough days between now and December. I know the state budget is tight - but won't this simply encourage high school students to organize "senior skip days" next spring?

+ A new splash park opened across the street from the Phenix City Library. There goes the "quiet, library zone" sign business....

(The splash park was built by Central High School graduates, who raised about $50,000 in private donations. Given what our "snail mail" tipster in Phenix City has sent us recently, these young adults need to reveal what is the park's "net present value adjusted for savings.")

+ Retired General Jerry White told WTVM the National Infantry Museum has welcomed 55,000 visitors since its grand opening last month. The museum's web site invites you to rent its World War II-era chapel for weddings. You'll only need twice the normal number of fresh-cut flowers, to overcome the musty odor.

+ A pharmaceutical group began running TV commercials praising Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, for supporting biomedical research. Trouble is, Isakson probably wishes big drug companies would deliver medicines in F-22 Raptor planes.

+ WLTZ's newscasts presented the first in a series of local "ambush makeovers." Oh please - don't tell me that's the real explanation for John Beard's bald head.

+ Instant Message to Carver High School football coach Dell McGee: Don't you have bigger issues right now, besides the University of Georgia withdrawing a scholarship? You know, like the sales tax vote for a new high school in eight weeks? Or the lack of a sign at the city limits marking your team's state title - 19 months ago?

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