Roanoke police respond to Market Square complaints, add officer

Chief Tim Jones says extra officer will be there through January

ROANOKE, Va. – There will now be more of a police presence in Roanoke’s Market Square after a stabbing sent two people to the hospital Thursday night.

Roanoke police announced Friday afternoon that they’re adding an officer to the area around-the-clock. The move came after both the stabbing Thursday and complaints from many business owners and managers who have said the problem of disruptive activity -- from people in the transient community and others -- is getting worse.

Police Chief Tim Jones said the recent stabbing gave the department no choice.

“Certainly not putting an officer there after last night's circumstances was not an option,” he said.

He told 10 News the department’s plan is to keep one extra officer there through January, and re-evaluate the decision closer to then. The department will use the overtime budget.

10 News listened to questions from area business managers who say there haven’t been enough officers nearby, and they’ve been asking for more of a police presence for more than a year. Jones said the department has been listening to the complaints and has been looking at the issue for the last three months.

Many say response times are slow. 10 News also asked Jones about that.

“Our response times stand on their own given that downtown is a foot patrol or bike patrol area,” he said.

Jones said as long as people in the transient community aren’t breaking the law, police can’t step in when they use profane language and are disruptive, which can make the issue difficult to manage.

“They have an absolute right to be there, folks, barring that they're not committing a crime. If they're committing a crime, call 911 and the police will address it,” he said.

Business managers said they’ve been frustrated at the lack of officers in the area.

“I think that we need more police presence. There's days I never see a policeman,” The Gift Niche owner Laura Duckworth said.

Some business owners would actually like to see the area return to a parking lot to keep people from gathering there, even though they believe the idea to allow families to sit outside was well-intentioned.

“But they can't do that because there's more and more homeless people going out there, and they sit out there and they drink, they smoke dope, they're doing drugs, and they're cussing, fighting, just hollering, trashing the place up,” Roanoke Weiner Stand manager Tonia George said.

Some managers also described harassment. 

“It certainly is a problem, particularly for people who are visiting our shops outside,” Center in the Square General Manager Jim Sears said.

Many managers said the disruptive behavior is daily and one said they make four to six calls per day to police.

“Their cussing language and their unruly manners with them and we have to listen to it all day long every single day,” Duckworth said.

Police don't have a cost estimate yet for the additional officer.