DPD substation causes flap with local businesses

Published 8:50 am Friday, May 18, 2012

The matter of the forthcoming Demopolis Police Department substation set to be located at Vowell’s took a new turn during Thursday’s Demopolis City Council meeting.

Jeff Beck, the owner of Demopolis Marketplace and its surrounding Gateway Plaza, approached the council to voice his concerns with the location of the substation.

“I feel like it has created an unfair and un-level playing field,” Beck said of the substation, which came about when Vowell’s approached the Demopolis Police Department about providing it a new base of operations.

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Under the previous arrangement, the Demopolis Police Department provided off-duty police officers to Vowell’s as security at the cost of $2,000 a month, which was used to compensate the officers for their efforts.

Vowell’s, which has a portion of its facility that previously housed a Robertson Bank branch, offered the now vacant portion of its building to the DPD to utilize as a substation. Under the arrangement, the DPD will incur only the cost of its phone bill as Vowell’s will cover the energy costs and refrain from charging the department rent.

The city council approved the initiative at its May 3 meeting. Both parties have since entered into a lease agreement.

“We feel like it is providing an opportunity to one retailer that is not available to other retailers in town,” Beck told the council. “It provides a presence. Can you provide a police presence at each additional retailer in town?”

During the May 3 meeting, Demopolis Police Department Chief Tommie Reese pointed to both the cost and the location near the middle of the stretch of US Highway 80 which runs through Demopolis as key advantages for the DPD in the project. Thursday, Beck lamented Gateway Plaza’s exclusion from the process.

“I feel like we’ve made a nice location out of a property that was in ill repair,” Beck said of the shopping center that is located on the east side of the city. “I’d be glad to pay for a substation and pay whatever Vowell’s is paying.”

After Councilman Jack Cooley informed Beck of the terms of the arrangement and that a police presence presence could be afforded to Demopolis Marketplace for a cost similar to the $2,000 a month Vowell’s had been paying for the service, Councilman Mitchell Congress entered in to the discussion.

“They were paying $2,000 a month and now they are paying $0,” Congress chimed in, referring to Vowell’s arrangement with DPD.

“I believe with a police presence, it actually provides an additional opportunity,” Beck, who cited four other retailers as having similar feelings, said. “I think it’s a great idea, but it isn’t something you can provide to all of them.”

“I, personally, have not received any concern from any (other business owners),” Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson offered.

Reese said he met with Beck and Walmart management Friday to address their concerns individually and assured all parties that the police presence at the Vowell’s substation would in no way negatively impact the police protection coverage afforded to the other stores, and that Vowell’s would receive no preferential treatment in responding to or addressing response calls.