Our Town: On Duty: Downtown Raleigh Alliance safety ambassador

Safety Ambassador Frank James walks through downtown Raleigh on Thursday, October 5, 2017. The safety ambassadors act as liaisons with the public to assist with a variety of issues throughout the downtown area.

“I meet new people every day. You never know who you’ll meet on the streets of downtown Raleigh.”

-Frank James, Downtown Raleigh Alliance safety ambassador

by Jessie Ammons
photograph by Madeline Gray

Every weekday morning at 6 a.m., Frank James dons a bright red shirt and reports for duty. He starts at the top of downtown Raleigh parking decks, ensuring everything is tidy and calm, and then makes his way to the streets, escorting people to their cars and offering directions. James is one of 18 Downtown Raleigh Alliance safety ambassadors. “We’re the second eyes and ears of police officers,” he says.

James says people are often surprised when he offers to help point them in the right direction or carry a heavy load into an office. “They’ll think I’m a parking attendant or something,” he says with a laugh. “But these red shirts mean we’re here to help.”

As a division of the nonprofit Downtown Raleigh
Alliance, James and his colleagues focus their work on the nucleus downtown district. Everything is on foot: “I’m walking from the time I start until the time I go home” at the end of 6-to-12-hour shifts. Afterward, many ambassadors head to another job, which is also often downtown. James, for instance, works at St. Augustine’s office of Residence Life and Housing. “Our world is downtown.”

James says ambassadorship is full of surprises; you never know, he says, what a shift will bring. An extensive training program schools ambassadors in basic safety measures and prepares them to handle a variety of situations, including combative crime and citizens under the influence. James works mostly daytime shifts, so his surprises are usually lighthearted. “Visitors get turned around down here,” he says. “I’ve helped people for an hour to find their car.”

Ultimately, James says, the safety ambassadors embody hospitality. “Safety ambassador, period. That’s what we are. I like the title. … We’re that friendly face. Anything you need, we’re here.”