The ambassadors do occupy the gray area between what the average citizen will do and where the police will step in. But the safety ambassador program is not meant to replace police, Operations Manager Melvin Eledge emphatically explains.
"We're not out there looking for people breaking the law. We never have any ambition towards enforcement,” Eledge said. “We're out there for hospitality and customer service, and we include a safety and observation function.
"I answered an ad for the job on Craigslist
, because it sounded almost too cool to be true. You do a lot of walking around, and you're involved in making Grand Rapids a better city,” he said. It's an opportunity to regularly give back and serve the community at large.”
Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.
(DGRI) launched the program last September to provide services to visitors and residents of the downtown area.
DGRI hired contract company Block by Block
to train the ambassadors, using funds from the Downtown Development Authority
's non-tax revenue. Block by Block, based in Louisville, Ky., has jumpstarted successful safety ambassador programs in 65 cities to date.
Seven days a week, the ambassadors canvas the streets in shifts. Each ambassador concentrates on a particular district, such as Heartside
, Monroe Center, or the Ionia area.
All ambassadors have the same job description, but their focus differs based on their district, or any big events happening that day. As Eledge puts it, the ambassadors keep their fingers on the pulse of Grand Rapids and adapt to the city's needs.