Charleston assigns full-time police patrols at Transit Mall
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston police have fought for years to keep criminal activity out of the KRT Transit Mall.
Authorities have said their latest endeavor -- the first full-time officer assigned to patrol the park -- seems to be working. However, that officer said it's no easy task.
Officer Steven Petty Jr. smiles as he greets the crowds of people scattered throughout the park during patrols on an unreasonably hot Friday. He's come to know many by their first names and in order to make eye contact when speaking to them, he doesn't wear sunglasses.
"I just try to be respectful and treat people how I would want to be treated," Petty said about his policing philosophy.
Petty acknowledges the challenges of being the first Charleston patrolman assigned the Transit Mall beat. The area has become synonymous with crime, and news outlets have paid close attention to the violent acts reported there, he said.
Earlier this month, a man was stabbed during an altercation. A man was sentenced to two years in prison in January for stabbing another man with a large knife at the Transit Mall. In years past, robberies and beatings have also been reported there.
One of Petty's goals is to build the community's trust so they feel comfortable reporting violent acts when they happen. He also maintains high visibility to let people know police are working to make the area safer.
One of the ways he does this is by looking after the significant homeless population that frequents the park. Some feel they have nowhere to go, he said, and come to the park after hours to sleep.
The city installed iron spikes along the park's dividing walls to discourage sleeping. Police also enforce a strict no-trespassing ordinance for the park at night.
Petty makes sure the homeless are aware of the limited resources available to them, but many still cannot find help.
During an average patrol he finds a lot of them drinking or using drugs. He spends a majority of his time dealing with repeat offenders, he said.
"I usually notice the ones that get up and leave as soon as I enter the park," he said.
Charleston Police Lt. Shawn Williams, commander of the Community Services Division, praised Petty for his work during a recent West Side neighborhood watch meeting.
Williams said Petty has successfully deterred a lot of criminal activity at the Transit Mall -- it's now moving elsewhere.
Petty now has to break away from the Transit Mall to patrol Davis Park and alleys along Capitol Street, he said. The challenge is staying ahead of the game, he said.
He goes to neighboring businesses to listen to their concerns. Many owners have said they feel safer with his presence and aren't afraid to walk through the park to open and close their stores.
Petty also switches up his work hours to trick repeat offenders who try to memorize his schedule.
He said he's willing to do whatever it takes to keep the area safer for everyone but is humble about the praise he's received.
"I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do."
Reach Travis Crum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5163.