Florence police removing benches downtown raises concern

Published: Jun. 25, 2021 at 6:18 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - It’s something the average person may not notice, park benches being gone.

But for those who frequent them or even use them as shelter it comes as a shift to everyday routines.

“When it gets hot out, it’s shade so they can sit and rest and veterans can sit and rest,” said Pete Chevalier.

In a statement Florence Police Chief Ron Tyler said he made the decision to remove five benches from the pavilion located next to Walgreens and First Southern Bank for a temporary period of time.

“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.

I will add this: while standing at the pavilion location where these benches were removed, there are 6 other benches within eyesight, all within one block. Two additional benches are located at Crossroads. Two are in front of the Veterans building. And two are on opposite corners of Court St and Alabama. Statements that the removal of these benches has caused some type of hardship are grossly overstated. What the removal of these benches has accomplished is the immediate displacement of persons committing criminal acts.”

Ron Tyler, Florence Police Department

Across the street from one of the pavilions, is Crossroads Community Outreach Day Center, where many of the homeless go for a hot meal and a place to stay for a few hours.

Pete Chevalier with the center said that many homeless people use those benches as shelter because it’s under a pavilion.

“It’s kind of hard because there ain’t that many places to go,” said Chevalier.

He also said that there could have been another solution rather than removing the benches.

“Have a meeting with the homeless care council and other housing providers,” Chevalier.

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