Law & tourism: How economic growth impacts law enforcement and visitors to their area

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by Adam Webb

Law enforcement can have a lot of faces. It can help stop robberies, find a missing person, and track down a fugitive on the run. But how does all of this apply to local businesses?

It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of law enforcement and community interaction, but when it comes to tourism, the police force can lend a helping hand quite often. In Williamson County, TN, just south of Davidson County, home of state capital Nashville, communities like Franklin and Liepers Fork are leaving their own footprint on the tourism scene.

Ellie Westman Chin is the president and CEO of Visit Franklin, a business set up to be a concierge service for the bustling little town. In her five years of living and working in Franklin, Chin says the police help ensure not only visitor safety but that of the locals as well.

“There are a couple different ways we work with the police department,” Chin said.

She and Franklin Police Department spokesman Lt. Charlie Warner work together to ensure everyone in the area stays safe and knows what’s open for their needs.

“First is when there’s any kind of weather event, like my first year here there was a big ice storm. Of course, we had visitors in our hotels and so what our visitors wanted to know was ‘Are there any places to eat? Are any of the restaurants open? Is the mall open?’” Chin said.

“So, we had a big survey out to our partners and created a list to give to hotels to post on social media and say, ‘These places are open even during an ice storm.’ At the same time, the city and Charlie are posting things about what streets are closed and how the streets are getting cleared. What Charlie and I realized is that both the residents and the visitors need both of this information. The visitors want to know where they can drive and is it safe? And, of course, the residents want to know if the mall’s open, can I go out to eat? So, we realized that was a pretty good marriage because of the information that we’re sharing.”

Ice storms are a pretty rare occurrence in Tennessee, and traditionally when they do occur, residents flood the grocery stores to stock up on milk and bread. But when a rogue patch of weather doesn’t bring traffic to a standstill, events like the Pilgrimage Festival or this year’s NFL Draft do.

“Charlie reached out and said, ‘Hey, can you keep us posted on are hotels going to sell out?’” Chin said.

This year’s NFL Draft occurred at the same time as the St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Nashville, as well as Franklin’s biggest event, the Main Street Festival.

“So, they wanted to know if we were going to have a whole lot more people on our streets that we should be aware of. So, we share with the police department when we know there’s going to be an influx of people in our community,” Chin said.

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In addition to working with local tourism, local police departments hold yearly active-shooter training sessions and women’s self-defense classes. Chin said she benefited from both and while they’re voluntary, she recommended seeking out similar training.

With Franklin’s continued growth comes its first hotel in the downtown area. Previously, visitors to Williamson County’s largest city were forced to the outskirts of town or even farther. But in August, the Harpeth Hotel will open its doors on 2nd Avenue downtown.

“We’re looking forward to opening the first hotel in the heart of this great city, offering visitors a refined yet comfortable place to stay and dine while they explore the unique culture and landscape of the area and create their own stories at our hotel,” General Manager Justin Foster said in a press release.

Though this isn’t Foster’s first go round as a hotel general manager, he said guest safety and a rapport with local law enforcement are always important.

“Typically, you have a police liaison in the area. I had one in Utah and in California,” Foster said. “I’ve always had a good relationship with that liaison. I’ve had them over for coffee or for lunch before. You hope you never have to make that call very often, but it’s just a partnership to make sure your guests are safe.”

If there’s one theme that accompanies anyone in law enforcement, it would be safety. Officer Tommy Walsh has been a police officer for more than 30 years in Brentwood, the town that separates Franklin and Nashville, and he shares Foster’s sentiment when it comes to hotel safety.

“I think security has certainly improved at many of the businesses and hotels in the area,” Walsh said. “We have officers with specialized training who are available to conduct a security survey and provide recommendations. Beyond physical changes such as lighting, door locks, cameras, or other improvements that could be made, we would suggest businesses communicate with us regarding any suspicious activity or when they have a concern about anything that might be going on. We know from experience that those relationships are the best chance we have to prevent crime.”

Walsh also shared the same opinion as Foster when it came to having a main point of contact for local businesses.

“We have an excellent working relationship with many local businesses and business owners. We work with many of the hotels in the city and have existing relationships with management. It is always helpful when hotel staff have a point of contact who they can call on when they have a question or concern,” Walsh said.

He went on to say that some hotels learn about safety the hard way.

“Some is learned behavior after an incident and some is preventative in nature,” Walsh said.

“Many of the department-type stores have loss-prevention staff that work with our officers on a regular basis. That has proven to be effective in both preventing criminal activity and arresting suspects who choose to commit criminal acts. We also have several hotels in the city [that]from time to time employ off-duty officers to help prevent issues from arising.”

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Although the city has grown over the past decade, Williamson County businesses and its law enforcement want to retain the small-town charm it has amassed over the years.

“Despite its growth, Franklin has managed to keep its down-home charm,” Warner said. “That’s a testament to the people who call Franklin home. Our residents are so supportive of our officers, and of the department’s efforts and initiatives to keep them safe. They’re amazing, actually. Our relationships with business owners, managers, and employees are important to us. Businesses want to thrive, and they recognize that the safety and their customers’ feeling of well-being contribute to their continued success.”

“From my view, it appears that the businesses, both new and existing, have benefited from the growth,” Walsh said. “Anytime a city experiences growth, there is an impact. It might be more cars on the road, more people who live in the city or who may work or shop in the city. The police department has not seen a dramatic increase in calls for service, but we have seen an increase and have worked with the city to add additional officers as we continue to grow.”

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