Columbus, Ohio, mayor asks businesses to close early to curb violence
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two consecutive weekends of gun violence in one of the most popular and bustling entertainment districts in Ohio has prompted city leaders to enact a number of new strategies to crack down on crime.
Chief among the new safety measures that Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther announced during a news conference on Thursday is the request that Short North businesses voluntarily close at midnight for the upcoming weekend and beyond. Ginther said the request — which is for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays — will likely remain in place for “as long as it takes” until the violence begins to abate in the neighborhood north of downtown.
Ginther said he is also signing an executive order mandating that food carts in the Short North close at midnight as well, which he said City Council is expected to codify into law at its Monday meeting.
“It is time for us to take a clear, strong and united stand against gun violence in the streets of Columbus,” Ginther said Thursday. “Back-to-back weekends of deadly violence in this area have served as an alarming wake-up call to the entire community.”
The city’s efforts comes amid national concern over gun violence, which Americans are increasingly considering as a threat to U.S. public health. Experts have also called gun violence a public health epidemic.
“Firearm deaths continue to be a significant and growing public health problem in the United States,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency said between 2019 and 2020, firearm homicide rate increased about 35%. And a recent Pew Research Center analysis showed that there have been more gun deaths in 2021 than in any other year on record.
So far in 2023, there have been over 16,000 gun violence deaths, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.
Police response changes after gun violence in Short North
The measures follow two consecutive weekends of gun violence in the neighborhood, known for its art galleries and night life.
A 21-year-old man was shot and killed after a fight escalated to gun violence on May 14. And nearly two weeks ago, a shootout left at least 10 people wounded, resulting in police firing their own weapons and seizing 11 guns.
That chaotic shooting spree, which left the Short North cordoned off for hours by crime scene tape, sent bullets through glass windows on store fronts, careening off buildings and ricocheting elsewhere. The resulting damage remained evident, with shattered glass and bullet holes still visible in many Short North shop fronts.
In the wake of the gun violence, Columbus police Chief Elaine Bryant said beginning this weekend, between the hours of 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., officers will have an increased presence in cruisers, on bicycles and on foot in the Short North. Extra lighting will be placed in certain areas, she added.
Officers with the Columbus Division of Police are expected to increase enforcement of the city’s curfew law this weekend as well, prohibiting those between the ages of 13 and 17 from being out between midnight and 4:30 a.m., Bryant said.
“Violence in the Short North or anywhere, it will stop — we will track you through data, targeted enforcement and we will put resources where violence is most likely to occur,” Bryant said during the news conference. “Our officers are prepared to strictly enforce illegal, unruly behaviors.”
‘Operation Burnout’ moves to Short North
“Operation Burnout,” a Columbus police effort to shut down the illegal street takeover events that have cropped up in various parts of the city, also will be implemented in the Short North, Bryant said.
Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein said Thursday that anyone engaged in illegal street takeovers or street racing, whether in the Short North or elsewhere, will receive no plea bargain if they are arrested and charged with a crime. Suspects will also be required to pay court costs and fines, and their vehicles will be impounded and held as evidence while the cases are pending.
Klein said his office has heard from residents in the Short North who are increasingly concerned about safety issues in parking lots, where young people often gather to drink, do drugs and cause other problems.
“We are not messing around because this threatens every single person across the city of Columbus,” Klein said.
Other actions have been taken as well to improve safety in the area. Following the second recent shooting, Columbus City Council on Monday approved $500,000 for additional safety measures for Downtown and the Short North.
Interest in Short North continues despite recent violence
Despite the rash of gun violence, many have told The Dispatch, part of the USA TODAY Network, that they remain undeterred from visiting the Short North. Much of their reasoning has to do with the hours at which the worst of the violence takes place.
Of the 712 criminal incidents recorded in 2022 by the Short North Crime Interdiction Program, a partnership with Columbus police, 36 were considered extreme or violent, including fights, robberies, and reported shots fired. According to the Short North Alliance, a nonprofit organization serving the district’s business and property owners, all incidents involving gun violence took place after 1 a.m.
“The vast majority of the time, the Short North is incredibly safe, so there’s no surprise to me that most people feel safe,” Betsy Pandora, executive director of the Short North Alliance, told The Dispatch. “The Short North is an incredibly resilient community.”
Will businesses willingly close early?
Pandora expressed confidence that in an entertainment district comprised of 300 businesses, a third of which are eating and drinking establishments, many owners will willingly comply with the request to close early on weekends.
Ginther also said he believed businesses would agree to close early, despite the potential financial loss. If they don’t, Ginther said they would have the “full and undivided attention of city, county and state law enforcement.”
But not all business owners in the Short North may be happy with the plan.
Ed Hastie, an attorney who represents at least four owners and numerous establishments along the Short North, said bars and restaurants in the area have been doing everything asked of them. He argued that the city should enforce open container and underage drinking laws, while cracking down on those smoking marijuana in public.
“By my conservative estimate, the bars and restaurants spend at least $1 million a year hiring special duty officers, probably twice that on private security,” Hastie said, adding that the city’s statement about cracking down on establishments that don’t comply with closing at midnight “an unnecessary and unproductive threat.”
Contributing: Bethany Bruner and Dean Narciso, The Columbus Dispatch
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