CAP patrols eye expansion into Birmingham's Loft District - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

CAP patrols eye expansion into Birmingham's Loft District

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They're a familiar sight on downtown streets.

Whether patrolling by bicycle, on foot, or in a pickup truck, CAP officers provide a variety of services to anyone in the business district.

"We do jump starts, tire changes, unlocks," said CAP Sergeant Scotty Armstrong.  "Also, security escorts.  If you feel unsafe, say you're coming out of the bank, you just made a withdrawal, we'll come and walk you to your car."

They'll even give you a gallon of gasoline if you run out.  They'll remove graffiti from signs and walls and alleys.  Essentially, they serve as an extra set of eyes and ears -- helping increase safety and the overall appearance of the area.

"We're a non-profit, so we don't charge the customer at all," Armstrong said.

For a while, CAP has wanted to expand its offerings beyond the business district and into more residential areas of downtown.  This week, CAP is offering its services to loft dwellers, working to convince more property owners to agree to the expansion idea.

Director Teresa Thorne said CAP has proven results in the Business District.  And it wants to spread those results to the Loft District.

"Since we've been down here, property values have increased about 68-percent," Thorne said.  "The crime statistics in the area downtown that we patrol have compared to Mountain Brook and Vestavia in terms of safety."

Thorne has crime comparison figures to back up her claim.  She said the people who work downtown understand that it is generally safe.  But there is still a negative perception of downtown among other people who are more unfamiliar with the area.  CAP is one of a handful of agencies working to fight that perception.

"We try to make the area look clean and safe," Armstrong said.  "We're ambassadors for the downtown.  When people are down here, they see a CAP, and they say, 'Well, I need directions to this place.  We're going to ask him.'  And they feel safe coming and approaching us and asking us for anything, and that's the way we want it."

While the services CAP provides are free at the time of service, property owners in the CAP coverage area pay an annual assessment to fund the program.  So in order to cover the Loft District, CAP needs signatures from property owners representing 67% of the total property value in the area.  In the loft district, a property owner would pay $120 a year per $100,000 of property value.

Thorne said the return on that investment would be a more vibrant community.

"Safety is a big factor in that -- in making businesses want to come down and people want to come and live in the area," she said.

Once the needed signatures are secured, the issue would go before the Birmingham City Council, Thorne said.  From there, a hearing would be held followed by a council vote on a resolution.

While CAP officers do not have the same authority as police officers, they take care of a lot of the "community policing" issues that can affect a neighborhood.  CAP maintains constant contact with officers whenever the help of police is needed.

If enough residential property owners agree to the expansion, CAP will expand its services over several more blocks.

"We aggressively patrol," Armstrong said.  "We want to be visible."

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