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Will Transit Mall Improvements Work?

Reported: May. 5, 2014 10:58 PM EDT
Updated: May. 6, 2014 10:16 AM EDT

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Kera Mashek) Several improvements are planned to Charleston's transit mall area. But the question remains as to whether any of the improvements will actually make a difference to improve that location.

In the past six months, there have been at least six raids by Charleston Police at the transit mall, with dozens of people being hauled off in handcuffs. A lot of people in the community are pleased to see the police being proactive in what's been seen as a trouble spot downtown for years.
Not everyone's convinced the arrests are making a difference, but the police chief insists the increased presence and the planned improvements to Slack Plaza will help.

Eyewitness News talked with three men who frequent the transit mall area, and all three openly admitted they've been arrested at the plaza by Charleston Police. They don't entirely agree with what they see as an unfair target put on Slack Plaza by the police recently, but they do think the area's had its fair share of problems that should be addressed..

"This is a good area..could be a good area," said Steven Lee of Charleston.

But the beefed up police presence isn't stopping.

In fact, minutes after we talked with Steven Lee, Charleston Police showed up and Lee got arrested for an outstanding felony warrant. Officers also slapped cuffs on another man for open container and public intoxication.

Charleston Police say the arrests are aimed at weeding out criminal activity at the transit mall. But it doesn't seem like the message is soaking in. Less than an hour after the intoxicated suspect was arrested, Eyewitness News caught him walking out of the Charleston Police Department a free man, and telling our cameras he needed to go buy beer.

"But if I go drinking around here I'll get busted won't I?" the man said.

Eyewitness News asked Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster, "What's the point of doing this if people are going to go back and continue to re-offend, and be at the transit mall causing problems?"

"That's true and that's the challenge for our people. They're not going to go to jail for very long but we want to send a message to the public that it's safe, and we're paying attention, and to the nuisance people, that stay out of there and if they don't want to go to jail for the night or for a few hours, they're best off going somewhere else out of the public eye," Chief Webster said.

While the arrests might only be making a small dent in the problems at the transit mall right now, Chief Webster is still optimistic. He says the improvements the city's planning to the plaza are a big step in the right direction.

"We're real excited about the long term plans the city is talking about because we truly believe that in other urban areas, when you redevelop the plaza and make it more inviting to the good element I guess you could say, we're going to see the problems go away and I think that's undeniable," Webster said.

The chief says there's an example of just that right here in Charleston. Before the new Four Points by Sheraton Hotel opened on the Kanawha Boulevard, police were responding to all kinds of calls there, but since the new development opened, the chief can't remember the last time they had a problem in that area. He's hoping that the same thing might just happen at the transit mall once improvements there are complete.

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