'Night and day' difference in Liberty Plaza after police set up Ann Arbor Art Fair booth
Kyle Feldscher | AnnArbor.com
Two days in, merchants near the booth are seeing a major difference.
Irene Gianinni and her husband Harry are making their second appearance at the Art Fair and were at the same spot on East Liberty, about 30 yards west of South Division Street, in 2012.
“The police weren’t there, it was totally different,” said Gianinni, who came up from Columbus, Ohio. “It’s night and day. During the day, you’d have the homeless there all day and people wouldn’t go in the park.
“This year, if you look, it’s a totally different feel. It’s incredible. Yesterday, the park was totally filled with people.”
That’s the goal the Ann Arbor Police Department was hoping to reach by setting up shop in Liberty Plaza — a place known for vagrants and drug and alcohol use.
In the past year, Ann Arbor police Chief John Seto has identified Liberty Plaza as an area where police presence needed to be increased. More foot and vehicle patrols have seemed to have the desired effect, with calls for police service to Liberty Plaza decreased year to date from 2012.
Lt. Matt Lige said this is a test run to see if having emergency services such as the AAPD, Ann Arbor Fire Department, Huron Valley Ambulance and the American Red Cross could all be set up in the park.
He said using Liberty Plaza as an “emergency service corridor” — the American Red Cross also has a booth there this year — during Art Fair was a natural choice.
“Strategically speaking, this is the perfect place to transform the plaza into some type of emergency-service corridor,” Lige said. “It’s centrally located, there’s convenience with the streets, all the services that we need. Secondarily, there’s also the perception that Liberty Plaza has.”
He added, “If emergency services personnel being there during this time serves a deterrent, that’s the second reason why we’re here.”
Lige has spent much of the past two days offering fans and Ann Arbor police stickers to festivalgoers who are taking a break in the shade. A band played soft jazz music in the park Thursday afternoon while Liberty Plaza looked as city officials must have always hoped it would: Filled with families and others, sitting on the benches and relaxing in the shade, feeling completely comfortable.
Between 3 and 4 p.m. Thursday, seats were at a premium in Liberty Plaza. Rumors of a storm coming toward the area raised hopes that the heat might break, but many people were turning gratefully to the handheld fans Lige was distributing.
Some incidents have been reported to police by passers-by, Lige said, but there hasn’t been any major crime reported at Art Fair to this point. Police officers at the booth are distributing information about the citizen’s academy, the Community Emergency Response Team and other information usually only available at City Hall.
He was focused on keeping others cool, but Lige said it’s been a difficult task for the officers on patrol in the plaza to stay comfortable.
“We are doing our best with all this wonderful shade to try and stay as cool as we can,” he said. “With all the equipment that we wear, and as hot as it’s been, it’s difficult to have a real comfortable atmosphere.”
At the same time, police officers were delivering a comfortable atmosphere for nearby vendors.
Gianinni said she was worried while she and her husband set up their booth Tuesday evening. Much like last year, Liberty Plaza was rowdy.
People were cursing and threatening each other, she said.
But, her husband pointed out the quiet atmosphere in the park quickly on Wednesday. Gianinni said she’s noticed the police presence has caused more people to actually enter the plaza, as opposed to sitting on the curb just outside as they did last year.
Gianinni and other merchants have gone out of their way to thank police for being out in the plaza, Lige said.
“I can’t tell you how many residents and customers have come through the plaza to sit down and enjoy the shade, enjoy the jazz music and get off their feet,” he said. “It’s been a very, very positive reception, having the Ann Arbor police here as a focal point and a mainstay for this entire event.”