Security needed for hot spot

By John Cousins

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A police officer and security guard could be stationed at the city's downtown bus stop to deter violence in the area.

Tauranga Community Constable Matt Elliott's office could be relocated into the heart of where troublemakers gather at the city's main bus stop in Willow St.

Shifting his office from the Westpac Building into the empty shop at the entrance to the Library Arcade will be one of the options to be considered by the council next Monday.

The council is cracking down on the brawls and intimidating behaviour that have become a big issue for the Tauranga Art Gallery which shares its frontage with bus stops. If the police agreed to the shift, it would put Constable Elliott into the centre of where all the trouble was happening.

One of the latest outbreaks of violence happened on February 15 when a brawl broke out, resulting in an arrest for assault.

The report said violent incidents like this had a lasting effect on the public: "In essence, it is a very bad look."

Another option to be considered was a "bus ambassador", who would work in the area from 3pm to 5.30pm, the times when the footpaths were most congested and the worst behaviour seemed to happen.

The council will also look at paying a security guard to patrol the bus stop from 3pm to 5.30pm, and installing a sound system to play calming music.

The new initiatives could be introduced almost immediately and funded from current budgets while alternative funding was sought from the Crime Prevention and Safe City project. A report to Monday's meeting said there was a noticeable improvement late last year when the police boosted foot patrols in the area. However, disorder issues quickly resurfaced when the frequency of the patrols reduced because of competing police priorities. It noted there was less disorder during school holidays. The mix of school children, homeless and various other people added to the conflict.

Maori Wardens, Community Patrols New Zealand and other volunteer groups have been approached to provide a presence at the bus stops from 3pm to 5.30pm, although it was uncertain whether they could make a daily commitment.

The costs were $10,000 for a sound system, $32,000 per year for a security guard and $22,000 for a bus ambassador. If the police favoured shifting Constable Elliott's office, there could be lost rental if the police were charged a discounted or nominal rental.

Constable Elliott was unavailable for comment.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said of all the presented options, he would prefer to have the bus stop proactively monitored by people on the ground.

"Clearly there are issues there and although they are isolated they need to be addressed. From my office, I oversee the Willow St bus terminal. I've seen some incidents myself and have called police on two occasions. My personal view is we need people on the ground in some shape or form at the peak times and at the times we've had problems."

Mr Crosby said it would be good to have two people at the terminal to support patrons and bus drivers in case of an incident.

"We need to be proactive rather than reactive, rather than just watching them on CCTV cameras like we do now. It won't financially be a lot of money among the overall cost of the bus service. It needs to be made safe for everybody."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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