CONCORD -- A new grant awarded to the city's police department is bringing bicycle officers back to the downtown, the latest move in an effort to have more eyes watching streets in the area.
The Brenden Mann Foundation has awarded the department $45,000 to pay for two bicycle officers to patrol from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday until the end of 2012. The foundation is the nonprofit arm of Brenden Theatres, which operates a movie theater on Willow Pass Road.
"I think this puts a very friendly face on law enforcement and shows that police are part of the community," said Councilman Dan Helix. "It's like in the old days they used to have the precinct policemen who walked around and knew all the shop owners."
The funding brings back bicycle officers to downtown after a hiatus of about four years, said Sgt. Russ Norris. It also helps fill a position that was eliminated when the state took away redevelopment funding, according to the city.
Chris Wheeler, general manager of E.J. Phair Brewing Co. & Ale House, said he has noticed a decrease in the number of youths hanging out downtown since police began increasing patrols just last week.
"Having bicycle police is definitely the right way to go long-term, just the fact that they can be so mobile," said Wheeler.
But Wheeler said patrols have not had the same effect so far on the downtown's homeless population.
In March, police officials reported that there are 956 homeless and chronic inebriants in the city, including 277 who live on the streets. Of the homeless population, 80 percent are unemployed, more than half abuse alcohol or drugs, and 411 people are mentally ill, according to city statistics.
The city estimates it responded to 2,000 calls for service last year related to homeless issues, costing the city $294,540.
Russ said the foundation's funding of Central County Homeless Outreach has helped. The foundation awarded the homeless advocacy group a grant of $6,400 to assist police with patrolling the downtown during its summer concerts on Thursday nights. The grant ends this month, but could be renewed, said foundation executive director Kathryn Jensen.
The funding for bicycle officers is part of a $124,000 grant Brenden Mann Foundation awarded the city last year. It has paid for sidewalk cleaning, plantings and a pilot test of added private security downtown, said Jensen.
David DeBolt covers Concord and Clayton. Contact him at 925-943-8048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.