Hillsboro Village is the kind of neighborhood where you can balance the buzz of a latté with a microbrew, take in a foreign film, order a fresh bouquet of lilies, or buy a bird bath for your front lawn. It’s not the kind of neighborhood where people get mugged or knifed in broad daylight.
At least it didn’t used to be. When a former Marine found himself repeatedly stabbed on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon recently, the sense of securityalways too good to be true for an urban neighborhoodwas shattered.
Following a string of violent crimes in less than a month, including five armed robberies and the knifing, the Metro Police Department stepped up its patrol efforts last week throughout the usually safe streets and alleys of Hillsboro Village.
“We have utilized everything from a helicopter to canine officers,” says Capt. Tommy Hibbs, commander of the Metro Police Department’s West Sector. “But we can’t do that all the time.”
That’s right. A police helicopter shining big, bright lights flew over the streets of Hillsboro Village as a deterrent to lurking criminals. It’s an image more associated with South Central Los Angeles than a trendy retail district where perusers can buy a purse crafted from a license plate.
In addition, Hibbs assigned eight bicycle officers to the area, creating a police presence long lacking in the Village. This week, those officers have resumed their broader patrol duties, but they’ll still be circling back to the Village to check on things.
“The police presence has been very, very visible, especially the bike patrol,” says Steven Coles, vice president of the Educators Credit Union, which is currently undergoing a $4 million renovation. “They are very much in the Village, and they help create a sense of safety.”
That hasn’t always been the case. Realizing that Hillsboro Village has been one of the safer neighborhoods in the city, the police typically have concentrated their finite resources on dicier parts of town. But as the recent spate of crimes suggest, no part of Nashville is immune to the ordinary dangers of a growing city.
For example, on the evening of July 14, a Saturday when the Village’s bustling nightlife was on full display, two suspects robbed a restaurant employee at Boscos as she was getting into her car. (Boscos was also robbed earlier this year.) A week earlier, two suspects armed with handguns stormed into Hillsboro Beer World, located in the shopping center across from the popular Sunset Grill, and robbed a customer and a clerk. And on a Sunday afternoon, a thief broke into a man’s 21st Avenue residence and robbed him of a small amount of money and some tools.
Meanwhile, it was a weekday afternoon last month when a vagrant wielding either a box cutter or razor repeatedly stabbed a former Marine who was retrieving a laptop computer from the trunk of his car. The assailant approached Billy Aplin within eyeshot of the Belcourt Theatre. Aplin wound up in the Vanderbilt Medical Center emergency room, where he received 50 stitches to treat gashes on his leg and forehead.
It’s the brazen nature of many of the recent crimes that point to the lack of a visible police presence before last week. “Coming from other big cities, it does surprise me that such a congested little neighborhood has had to fend for itself,” says Kate Sage, co-owner of Fido, who welcomes the presence of the bike patrol officers. “I guess they think it’s a yuppie little neighborhood where nothing goes wrong.”
A few merchants have suggested that the robberies were merely isolated incidents and not reflective of a larger crime wave. And, in fact, police believe that the five armed robberies were committed by the same two thirtysomething black males, both wearing bandannas. But while others seem to wish the problem away, in large part because the success of the Village depends upon its reputation as a safe place, Hibbs is taking it very seriously.
“If a guy has a gun and threatens to kill you, that’s pretty serious,” he says.
The no-nonsense police commander adds that in the week since the police have stepped up their Village presence, he hasn’t heard any reports of crime. The problem is that “now crime is up in other places. We’ll do this as long as we can, but I don’t know how long we can sustain it.”
In fact, Hibbs already has pulled away some of his officers from the Village. He says that he’ll throw them right back there if crime picks up. Meanwhile, he says he welcomes more suggestions from merchants on patrolling the neighborhood.
Area Metro Council member Ginger Hausser says that the Village would benefit from a consistently high visibility of police officers. She has helped lead efforts to reignite the city’s heretofore slacking community police efforts. Practiced in one form or another across the country, community policing typically features officers patrolling local neighborhoods on foot, bike, or horseback. Removed from the often intimidating confines of their patrol cars, police officers can interact with the community, getting a better idea of what they need to keep on their radar. Perhaps most importantly, they make their presence felt, which is as good a crime-fighting tactic as there is.
The Metro Council approved a modest $250,000 in funding for community policing efforts, which Hausser says have declined over the years in areas outside of downtown.
The new funding won’t make any radical alterations to the crime-fighting landscape, but the first-term Council member hopes to involve Hillsboro Village merchants in a partnership under which merchants would pick up part of the tab for the city’s community policing arrangements.
“If we create a partnership, we’ll get the best results,” Hausser says. “You can’t prevent crime all the time, but we can be the best prepared we can be. We can have high visibility of police officers.”
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