FLORENCE, Ala. — The removal of several benches in downtown Florence is sparking concerns amid the homeless community. Police Chief Ron Tyler said it was done to deter disruptive behavior, but some argue against his decision.
If you’ve driven along Court Street in downtown Florence, chances are you’ve seen people congregating and sitting on the benches under the brick pavilion in front of Walgreen’s Pharmacy. The group usually consists of members of the city’s homeless population who also use the nearby Crossroads Community Outreach center.
Chief Tyler said he made the decision to temporarily remove the benches as well as benches across the street after reports of disruptive criminal behavior in the area.
The chief said different incidents include a man trying to get into the passenger side of a vehicle stopped at the intersection and another man removing all his clothing in the bushes of a nearby bank. This past Wednesday, Tyler said two people were arrested for disorderly conduct at that location.
Crossroads Community Outreach Executive Director Kimberly Jackson said she doesn’t believe that removing the benches will solve the issue. She also said it leaves homeless veterans and those with disabilities at a disadvantage. She added removing the benches won’t prevent crime or homelessness.
“It wouldn’t really matter because even if the benches are not there, they’re going to come over and sit on the ground,” Crossroads Lead Coordinator Peter Chevalier said.
Chevalier agreed with Jackson, adding that a better solution would be more communication with individuals.
Chevalier said it felt like the police were trying to hold power over the homeless population, however, Chief Tyler explained that he is empathetic towards the community and the efforts of Crossroads.
In a statement, Tyler said, “However, I felt like we needed to do something to disrupt this on-going, pattern of criminal behavior. My hope is that this specific area gets a break from this type of activity.”
Tyler said the benches will return in a few weeks. There are no plans to remove any other benches in the downtown area.
Read below for Chief Tyler’s full statement:
“On Wednesday night, I made the unilateral decision to remove the 5 park benches from the pavilion located next to Walgreens and First Southern Bank for a temporary period of time for the purpose of disrupting a pattern of criminal behavior that has been occurring on and around these park benches. To be clear, this is a temporary solution designed to disrupt patterns of criminal behavior. This was never a permanent solution. Examples of recent criminal behavior include one male attempting to get into the passenger side of a vehicle driven by a female who was stopped at the traffic light on Court St. A passerby intervened by physically removing the male away from the vehicle. Another male has been removing all of his clothing, getting completed nude, and either changing clothes and/or washing and cleaning himself up in the nearby bushes. Just Tuesday, two arrests were made for disorderly conduct at this location. One arrest for a male screaming and cussing at people who were in the area, the second due to one homeless female chasing a second homeless female with a broken shard of glass.
I am very empathetic to the homeless and the efforts of Crossroads Community Center. However, I felt like we needed to do something to disrupt this on-going, pattern of criminal behavior. My hope is that this specific area gets a break from this type of activity. In a couple of few weeks, the benches will be back in place. There are no plans to remove any other benches in the downtown area. This was limited to a specific group of people engaging in this activity, and limited to this specific intersection.
Florence Police Department”