COLUMBIA — Downtown has room for improvement, according to participants in a public forum Thursday.
The Downtown Safety Summit was created last July to make recommendations to improve safety in The District. As part of the the summit, a public forum was held at the First Baptist Church to discuss downtown with stakeholders. Eight recommendations were presented for improving downtown safety:
- Maintain geographic policing of the district.
- Install public or private security cameras in areas of high crime, as designated by the police chief.
- Improve lighting in alleys by increasing the brightness of the existing lights or installing new ones.
- Rewrite the panhandling ordinance to give businesses a clearer entrance and exit for customers.
- Require bar employees to pass a server training program.
- Ask the city manager's office to designate certain weekends, especially sporting weekends, as "event nights." On such weekends, the district would be managed as a hospitality zone by adding trash cans, portable toilets and more.
- Improve public transportation at night.
- Install emergency call boxes in strategic areas.
Molly Wagner, who owns Billiards on Broadway, said the recommendations were "awesome suggestions" and wanted to know how quickly they could be implemented.
"Let's take this work and go do something with it," Wagner said. "Let's make it happen now."
First Baptist Church Pastor John Baker, who is also the chairman for the Downtown Safety Summit, said if people like the ideas, they could be turned into a City Council presentation.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade, who is currently running for mayor, said many of the ideas don't need to be brought before council and could be worked out by businesses themselves. Other ideas, he said, could be in the council work session after the April 6 election.
"I think there's a number of things that can happen quickly," Wade said. "What has to be sorted out is which of these things require council action."
Other suggestions were made:
- Chuck Naylor of Harpo's Bar and Grill said the city should have taxi stands where people who have been drinking can get transportation.
- Generic Nightclub owner Will McCaskill said businesses often have problems with patrons loitering after hours, but police do not have the tools to approach them unless they are out on the street. "We don't want to infringe on people's civil liberties," McCaskill said. "We need to figure something out — maybe some extension of the frontage."
- Stakeholders also discussed downtown cameras and whether they are effective. Keith Daly, who manages the Penguin Piano Bar, said he has not heard of anyone getting robbed at night since the seven-member Downtown Police Team was formed. He said crime has gone down and people should consider that "before we start putting money in cameras that we have to watch."
Police Chief Ken Burton said he also thinks downtown has benefited from the team and he hopes to hear ideas from citizens about how to improve.
"We want to try to keep police participation to a minimum," Burton said. "We want to hear about what citizens want."