Mayor Andrew Ginther asking Short North businesses to close at midnight to curb violence
Columbus city leaders hosted a news conference Thursday morning to reveal new safety strategies planned for the city's Short North neighborhood following two consecutive weekends of gun violence.
- Chief among the new safety measures that Mayor Andrew J. Ginther announced during a news conference on Thursday is the request that businesses voluntarily close at midnight during weekends.
- Ginther said he is also signing an executive order mandating that food carts in the Short North close at midnight as well, which City Council will approve as a new law.
- The measures come four days after a 21-year-old man was shot and killed in the neighborhood after a fight escalated to gun violence and nearly two weeks after a shootout on North High Street.
- In the wake of the gun violence, Columbus police Chief Elaine Bryant said patrols and targeted enforcement in the Short North will also increase this weekend.
Two consecutive weekends of gun violence in one of Columbus' most popular and bustling entertainment districts has prompted city leaders to enact a number of new strategies to crack down on crime in the Short North.
Read the series:Under Fire: An examination of gun violence across Columbus
Chief among the new safety measures that Mayor Andrew J. Ginther announced during a news conference on Thursday is the request that 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 located just north of Downtown.
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Additionally, Ginther said he is 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 before assembled media in Poplar Park on the southern edge of the Short North. "Back-to-back weekends of deadly violence in this area have served as an alarming wake-up call to the entire community."
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The measures come four days after a 21-year-old man was shot and killed in the neighborhood — known for its art galleries and night life — after a fight escalated to gun violence, and nearly two weeks after a May 6 shootout on North High Street that left at least 10 people wounded and resulted in police firing their own weapons and seizing 11 guns.
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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. Even more than a week later, 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 that 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.
The Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9 confirmed that all personal time-off requests for officers working second, third or evening midwatch shifts have been canceled for the weekend to help provide staffing in the Short North and ensure the rest of the city continues to have a police presence.
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Street parking between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. also will be prohibited on Friday and Saturday on North High Street between East Goodale Street and West Fifth Avenue, Bryant said. That means ride share drivers will only be able to use the curb lanes and Central Ohio Transit Authority bus lanes to pickup and drop off passengers.
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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. During the past two weekends, Bryant said the operation has led to 54 misdemeanor traffic citations, five misdemeanor court summons, four felony arrests, three arrests on warrants, five firearms seized and 13 vehicles impounded.
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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.
"We are not messing around because this threatens every single person across the city of Columbus," Klein said.
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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. Klein said his office has reached out to the neighborhood's parking lot owners and said he remains willing to file nuisance abatement lawsuits against those who don't take steps to address the problems.
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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.
Marc Conte, executive director of the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, which covers part of Downtown, previously said the money will go toward more special duty officers, including some during the day, plus additional training for the group's security operations and private security with an eye toward de-escalation.
Interest in the Short North continues, despite recent violence
Despite the rash of gun violence, many have told The Dispatch 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.
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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 recent death of Arthur Pickens took place after he was shot around 2:45 a.m. Sunday in the 900 block of North High Street outside SeeSaw Kitchen + Bar. A week prior, when gunfire erupted during two separate incidents in the Short North on May 6, events happened around 2:30 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 in the Short North 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 closing 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."
However, not all business owners in the Short North may be happy.
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 and are being unnecessarily targeted by the city. He argued that the city needs to enforce open container laws 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.
He called the city's statement about cracking down on establishments that don't comply with closing at midnight "an unnecessary and unproductive threat." Estimates by the Short North Alliance and others show revenue losses of more than 20% by closing two hours earlier, he said.
"The city has not held up its end of the bargain," Hastie said, indicating that there are no serious problems inside the bars that aren't being addressed by Ohio liquor control officials. "They (problems) happen out by the food trucks and out in the streets. It's the Wild West outside of the bars. Inside, there are no fights."
"We want to fix these problems. Let's see the commitment by the city to enforce the laws."
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But Ginther insisted the measures are necessary if the violence is to ease. And he called on the community to report tips of any criminal activity to law enforcement and, when safe, to intervene.
"We will not allow a few hours of lawless and reckless behavior committed by an extremely small number of people to continue or to take another life," Ginther said. "We will not allow these dangerous criminals to dismantle a revered community treasure like the Short North."
Dispatch reporters Bethany Bruner and Dean Narciso contributed to this article.
Eric Lagatta is a reporter at The Columbus Dispatch covering public safety, with a focus on in-depth coverage of social justice issues and crime trends.