DEL PASO HEIGHTS - Businesses affected by criminal activities are trying a new approach.
Instead of relying on armed security guards, they opted for unarmed community ambassadors while also hiring off-duty Sacramento officers.
Del Paso Boulevard wants to make comeback but repeat offenders not being held accountable stand in the corridor's way. As a result, crime is hurting sales while keeping customers away.
In its heyday, Del Paso Boulevard was the place to be. Mid-century modern architecture remains on full display with bright murals paying homage to the area.
For Del Paso Boulevard Partnership, the reality is diners and shoppers see something else.
"You see just basic public nuisances: Drinking in public, loitering, sometimes illegal camping, someone who may be outside of their mental capacity walking around with a stick or a shovel entering a business," said Daniel Savala, executive director of the property business improvement district.
But Savala does not want to call this new initiative a cleanup.
"Instead of saying, 'Hey, get out of here,' we're letting people know it's OK to be here," Savala said. "We just expect – we have a standard."
Peer mentoring group Brother to Brother is rooted in the community.
"That's the key to everything that we do. We work with people in our community so there's a familiarity there," said Mervin Brookins, CEO of Brother to Brother.
The ambassadors most often are people turning their lives from the streets.
In May, the teams began providing resources to people in need while off-duty Sacramento officers enforce the law – something a security guard could not really do. In July, the PBID hired two off-duty officers.
Last year, John Fierro reopened the beloved Little Joe's restaurant. But he immediately encountered problems – mostly from unhoused people.
"It was a little tough getting someone to respond in a timely manner and so that was kind of frustrating sometimes," Fierro said.
When ambassadors run into problems, they no longer call dispatch but the off-duty officers instead.
According to Savala, the city allocated $133,000 from the federal American Rescue Plan to fund the program which also includes public safety infrastructure like lighting and security. It costs $90,000 for the off-duty officers.
Fierro hopes this program turns the boulevard's reputation around.
"We're just hoping to bring it back to some of its glory day," he said. "To get recognized again and to make it a destination."
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