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Z-no-digital
Hanes Mall stores call cops about twice a day, every day

The most dangerous place in town — the most frequently visited by police — was quiet Thursday morning. There wasn’t a cop in sight.

A steady trickle of physically fit retirees, hard-core shop-til-you-droppers and the idle bored trekked into (and out of) the 1.5 million-square-foot Hanes Mall. Many looked overheated and carefree.

Danger?

That’s probably not the exact right word though it comes up in discussions about public safety.

Still, data gathered (and analyzed) by the Winston-Salem Police Department does show that officers are called nearly twice a day every single day — 698 times in 2018 — about offenses ranging from runaways to robbery. A steady police presence is what it is.

Busiest — or even most victimized — perhaps are better adjectives. For in the vast majority of cases, merchants rather than individuals are the victims. The same holds true for several other high-traffic retail centers throughout town.

However you look at the stats, whether they represent actual danger or just high volume, the big boxes eat up big bucks to police. Every time a cop is sent to a call, it costs taxpayers $331.

The numbers don’t lie.

Public nuisance and victims

Though they can be used in any number of new and creative ways, statistics don’t tell tall tales. Shading and bending come into play only when people try and explain what they mean.

In Winston-Salem, discussions about crime statistics, calls for police service — and associated costs for same — usually only crop up during budget season or when one place or another makes headlines for the wrong reasons. Public nuisance is the preferred term, and city officials have it within their power to condemn and close down such places.

In recent years, discussions about public nuisances have involved the old Royal Inn on Broad Street and a problematic night spot in the 500 block of North Cherry Street called the Nova Lounge.

City officials forced the closure of the former in 2015 and the owners of the building housing the latter decided in April to close after seven people were shot in the vicinity. The suspension of club’s alcohol permit didn’t help.

Still, mere mention of the “public nuisance” option prompted conversations and one salient question: What locations command the most attention from police?

The most straightforward answers can be found in calls for service data gathered by the crime analysis unit — a top 25 list of locations for police calls — based on street blocks.

Calls for service are just that; they’re neither arrests nor convictions. The list is simply a log of calls and what prompted them. A single call can be about several different items, too.

(If you’re reading this in print, by now you’ve seen the big chart with all the numbers. If you’re reading online, check out the interactive map. It’s interesting stuff.)

A few things jumped off the page. Some highlights:

  • Blocks anchored by shopping centers — retail outlets — account for seven of the 10 busiest places for cops in Winston-Salem.

That’s not terribly surprising once you sift through what prompted them; the overwhelming majority were for shoplifting.

Hanes Mall, to no one’s surprise, came out on top by a large margin. It has more than 200 merchants and attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. Police were called 698 times in 2018 and 769 offenses were logged — 519 of those were larcenies. Shoplifting, in other words.

  • Walmarts (and neighboring stores) were also frequent fliers with three places in the top ten. Make your own jokes, but the retailing giant is often the victim.
  • The hospitals — Wake Forest Baptist Medical and Novant Forsyth Medical Center — placed fourth and fifth. Sadly, more than half the calls for police involve mental-health issues and involuntary commitments. The mental health crisis is real, folks, and woefully underfunded.

The Clark Campbell Transportation Center, a frequent subject of low-level grumbling by downtown merchants, ranks eighth. Trespassing was the leading complaint for the bus station.

By contrast, the 500 block of North Cherry Street, which is home to a building which housed a conga line of troublesome nightclubs that have included, but aren’t limited to, the Nova Lounge, Xpressions, Lollipops, and for you gentlemen of a certain age, Harper’s, didn’t even make the top 25. Analysts logged 177 calls for service there — over 10 years, from 2009 through April.

At its worst, the Royal Inn on Broad Street logged 77 calls between April 2013 and July 2014 for prostitution, drug use and assorted lifestyle crimes.

Single biggest expense

Because we’re dealing with numbers, perhaps the most important data point involves those with dollar signs.

Public safety — police, firefighters and EMTs — accounts for 22.5 percent of the city’s proposed $496.4 million budget for 2019-20. It’s the largest single expenditure by far; transportation and debt management are next at 10.4 and 10.3 percent each.

Police, with 554 sworn officers, will cost $77 million. And the cost of patrol cops — the uniformed women and men humping all those calls for service and filling out all the attendant reports — will account for more than half the police budget at $43.1 million. (Detectives, at $16.2 million, are a distant second.)

Each of those patrol officers — working cops, not supervisors — are projected to handle some 740 calls each in fiscal 2019-20.

Here’s the showstopper: each dispatched call costs an average of $331 — that figure includes such measurables as salary, benefits and equipment. There are interviews to conduct, paperwork to file and sometimes follow-ups.

The statewide average is $287 per dispatched call.

How many of those calls result in arrest?

In the proposed budget, police brass lay out realistic, but nevertheless surprising, goals for 2019-20: a 53 percent clearance rate for reported violent crimes and 20 percent for property crime. Most of those shoplifters driving the calls for service don’t get caught.

But those are just the numbers, and they don’t lie.

Think about that next time you run an errand.


Z-no-digital
Gateway YWCA pool closed permanently; space will be converted into fitness area

The pool at the Gateway YWCA in Winston-Salem is permanently closed after it flooded last summer, the YWCA of Winston Salem and Forsyth County announced Thursday.

The former Aquatic Center will instead be converted into a fitness area with work beginning as early as the fall to transform the space.

“It was a hard decision emotionally to close the pool because of the people who love it. We don’t want to disappoint anybody,” said Greg L. Fagg, vice president of operations for the Gateway YWCA. “But when the pool flooded, it put all the equipment that operates the pool under water and to replace it all proved pretty costly.”

Heavy rains and subsequent flooding of the pool area last August knocked out power for more than a week at the facility and caused extensive damage to the Aquatic Center.

Since then, the YWCA has been trying to secure a sponsor to help foot the nearly $600,000 needed for repairs and help sustain the Aquatic Center financially in the future.

As the largest indoor aquatic center in the county, it cost $362,000 each year to operate, not including unexpected maintenance and repairs, Fagg said.

The center included a 223,000-gallon competition pool, a 64,400-gallon warm water pool and a 2,300-gallon hot tub and spa.

“There’s a reason it’s the largest and that’s because it’s a big financial toll to run something that big,” Fagg said. “When we look at it from a dollars point of view, it was hurting our organization to keep it open.”

Following the August incident, the insurance company covered the $180,000 needed for electrical repairs and $10,000 for cleanup and testing the facility for mold, Fagg said.

In January, Fagg said the YWCA was in conversation with several possible partners that would enable them to reopen the Aquatic Center with a possible reopening date of February.

But in the end, nobody was able to commit the money needed to not only fix the pool but also sustain it, and the decision became inevitable.

“There’s no point in fixing the pool if we can’t keep it operational,” Fagg said. “It takes a lot of money to heat all that water, for the chemicals and to staff that large an area.”

Work could begin as early as the fall to fill in the pool and begin repurposing it into a fitness space, he said.

They are open to ideas from the community on what the new space could be but hope to use it to explore new ventures.

“We plan to create another track in that space for people to walk on, put some fitness equipment there,” Fagg said. “We’re not sure yet what the finished product will look like, but there’s a lot of space to work with.”

Fagg said he has already heard some dissent from regular pool-goers who wanted the aquatic center to be restored.

Two town hall meetings will be held at the YWCA, located at 1300 S. Main St., to share more information on the pool closure and address questions from community members.

The one-hour-long meetings will be held Wednesday and June 11 at 11 a.m. in the multipurpose room.

“Our members are important to us, so we want to get them up to speed and allow them the chance to ask their questions,” he said.

The annual Ramblin’ Rose triathlon in Winston-Salem has been held at the YWCA since the facility opened in 2007, but race organizers are searching for a new venue in light of the pool closure, according to the race website.

The triathlon, which is slated for Aug. 18 and draws hundreds of participants, is made up of three events: a 225-yard swim, 8-mile bike and 2-mile run.

Last year, organizers were forced to convert the traditional race into a biathlon with cycling and running only after the unforeseen flooding that occurred just weeks before the race.

“We are aware of the issues with the YWCA pool and are currently finalizing plans for an alternate venue,” a post from the Ramblin’ Rose Winston-Salem website read. “We feel very sure that a great option is available and we will have more info to share with you as soon as all permissions have been received.”

Michael Bragg, communications director for the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina, said he could not comment on the YWCA’s decision to repurpose the pool, but that the YMCA will continue to serve the aquatic community.

The William G. White, Jr. Family YMCA, on West End Boulevard, and the Winston Lake YMCA, on Waterworks Road, both have pools and are within five miles of the Gateway YWCA.

In November, 2015, an agreement went into effect that allows local YWCA members to use the facilities of all of the branches within the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina Association.

“This has been a long process. Our initial intention was to get the pool operating again quickly,” Fagg said. “Now we have to move forward.”


Local
Davie County man, a prominent GOP figure, loses Budd job after assault charge, since dropped

A Davie County man who has served in several key GOP roles over the years, including a stint as the executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, is no longer employed with U.S. Rep. Ted Budd’s office.

William “Todd” Poole, 44, of Advance gave up his job as district director for Budd, a Republican who represents the 13th Congressional District, earlier this month after being charged in an alleged assault. That charge was soon dropped.

On May 4, Poole was charged with misdemeanor assault on a female by the Davie County Sheriff’s Office, according to the Davie County Clerk of Court’s Office. The charge was dropped about two weeks later, on May 16, at the woman’s request.

The woman has the same last name and address as Poole, Davie County District Attorney Garry Frank said.

Poole was accused of headbutting the woman.

The charge was dropped after the woman contacted the district attorney’s office, requesting modifications to Poole’s bond, which barred any contact or communication, Frank said. The woman was told she needed to come to Poole’s court appearance to make those requests.

She didn’t appear, Frank said. The prosecutor’s request to continue the case was denied, so the case was voluntarily dismissed.

A call to a number listed for Poole was not returned Thursday.

Four days after Poole was charged, he left his position with Budd.

“Earlier this month, on May 8, Todd Poole offered me his resignation,” Budd said in a statement. “I accepted it at that time and he is no longer with my office.”

Poole was hired for the position after Budd was elected in November 2016. He had previously served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th District, as well as the executive director of the N.C. Republican Party. He stepped down from that role in August 2015.

While serving as Foxx’s chief of staff, in December 2011, Poole pleaded guilty in Watauga County to driving while impaired. His exact blood alcohol level was sealed in a court order. Foxx kept Poole on her staff after his plea.