“I haven’t had to make one call to the police since [the cameras] were installed,” says Hank Schoch.
Schoch, of Van Boven clothing on State St. has worked in the campus business district for nearly forty years. Last November, he sent a sorrowful letter to the city. “[B]ecause of the reduced number of Police Officers, neighborhood patrols have been terminated,” he wrote. “That situation has allowed panhandlers to act with impunity. Others urinate, smoke marijuana and drink alcohol within the confines of Nickels Arcade itself … this once vibrant business area in Ann Arbor has become, for lack of a better word, ‘Seedy.'”
“Seven or eight years ago it got really bad–panhandlers, general vagrant types,” says Mike Savitski, whose graphic design firm is on the second floor of the Arcade. It’s gotten bad again recently, he thinks, because “people have fallen on hard times.” The river of students flowing to and from the Diag–“well-meaning, good-hearted young people with money in their pockets”–draws both homeless people and professional panhandlers to the Arcade.
So at the end of March, Ron White, whose Arch Realty manages the Arcade, installed five video cameras. High up, two barely readable signs advise: “Warning. All activities are recorded on video tape to aid in the prosecution of any crime committed against this facility.”
Schoch says he has already gotten complaints from some regulars–regular vagrants, not regular customers–that “big brother is watching.” But the cameras seem to be working the magic the retailers had hoped for: Schoch says that even Hash Bash went off without a hitch.
Savitski says if he had a magic wand, he would fill the storefronts left vacant by the closing of Borders and Michigan Book & Supply. He thinks that the neglected stretches are encouraging the uptick in aggressive panhandling. But he also is quick to talk about what he loves about the Arcade. He calls the almost century-old, glass-roofed corridor connecting State and Maynard “a slice of Paris, Milan, Vienna, right here in Ann Arbor.”
AAPD officer Kevin Warner, who was walking through the Arcade at lunchtime recently, used to be one of the downtown beat cops. Though he now covers a much larger area, Warner says he still knows all the Arcade shopkeepers and has given many of them his cell phone number.
With summer coming, Warner is glad the cameras are in place. “When the temperatures are in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, we’re slammed,” he says. “More people out on the streets, more people consuming alcohol …” Stay tuned.