Enforcing existing ordinances and illuminating Dauphin Street with floodlights were two main solutions to public safety concerns in downtown Mobile that came out of a meeting Wednesday with Mobile police and bar and restaurant owners.
The solutions are part of a plan by police to step up enforcement downtown after a fatal shooting on New Year’s Eve and ahead of the city’s Carnival season next month.
“The main focus was (the business owners) would like to see more vigorous enforcement of the rules of entertainment districts,” Police Chief Paul Prine said Thursday.
The highlights include:
- Enforce a youth curfew order prohibiting youth under the age of 18 from being downtown after 10 p.m. or before 5 a.m.
- Banning tailgating or what police call “bars in cars” where visitors to downtown Mobile bring coolers of alcohol and refill their drinks from their parked vehicles.
- Make sure the city’s noise ordinance is followed and crack down on loud music.
- Require patrons within the downtown area drink alcoholic beverages in the prescribed 16-ounce LODA-labeled plastic cups.
- Suppressing against overexposure or dangerous driving.
- Installing large flood lights along Dauphin between Jackson and Conception streets.
The suggestions did not include changes to the recreation district ordinance that would include, among other things, changing the hours for outdoor drinking.
Greg Loughlin, owner of Saddle Up Saloon, said during Tuesday’s Mobile City Council meeting that city officials should consider moving back the entertainment district’s closing time from midnight to 9 p.m.
“Most of the people in attendance at the meeting did not support that, and even our restaurants, like our fine dining establishments, thought that was not a solution,” said Carol Hunter, spokeswoman for the Downtown Mobile Alliance.
Mobile City Councilman William Carroll, who represents downtown Mobile, said Tuesday that he is not in favor of further restrictions within the downtown area. He is not in favor of turning back the clock.
The hours were rolled back once in 2016, when council members agreed to change the outdoor drinking hours from 2 a.m. to midnight due to concerns about outdoor block parties and violent encounters.
Other council members did not weigh in on changing the hours within the entertainment districts.
Councilman Scott Jones, whose district does not include a recreation district, declined to comment on specific issues within the districts.
But he said something had to be done.
“I believe we need to have a formal discussion about the things we’re seeing and figure out what right looks like,” Jones said. “We cannot accept what happened on New Year’s Eve without making changes, especially with all the major events coming up in the next month.”
Implementation of existing ordinances
David Rasp, the longtime owner of Heroes Sports Bar & Grille, said he doesn’t believe changing the district’s hours is the right way “until, and unless, we’ve committed to compliance with all the ordinances and laws that we have in place..”
“For me, it’s an issue of if we’re committed to an area that we’re going to enforce those ordinances and do it with some consistency,” Rasp said. “We just have to proactively manage this area, which creates a welcoming and safe environment for the general public.”
He said he believes the city already has plenty of ordinances on its books to address the concerns in downtown Mobile.
“Traffic, noise, loitering, panhandling and all these behaviors and activities contribute to the environment we’re in,” Rasp said. “We have no shortage of prescriptions that address all of those problems.”
Prine said it can be difficult to enforce some of the ordinances within the districts, especially restricting people from drinking alcoholic beverages in the plastic LODA cups.
“That can only be problematic in that for a lot of young people who come downtown and who don’t have the means to spend money in the entertainment district, they’ll take the cups and go to cars and refill their alcohol,” Prine said. . .
Mobile has three entertainment districts, all located downtown. The first district was created about 10 years ago, and each allows patrons to consume alcohol within its boundaries.
Almost all of Dauphin Street, from Broad to King streets, is included within an entertainment district. Only a three-block area between Cedar and Franklin streets is omitted.
Hunter said she could not recall a section of Dauphin Street being illuminated with flood lights before. Prine said they are used during Mardi Gras to light up a section of Government Street.
He said the flood lights will remain on Government during this year’s Carnival parade season. He said several flood lights will be placed on Dauphin between Jackson and Conception streets.
“That will be a deterrent with people coming down with bad intent,” Prine said. “It should be a deterrent to let (troublemakers) know there are cameras downtown and these lights … will catch you.”
Prine, who said his agency is down about 70 police officers, has repeatedly said the agency relies on the public to alert police whenever they see something suspicious.
During the New Year’s Eve shooting, there were police officers within 30 feet of where the suspected gunman, Thomas Earl Thomas Jr., shot and killed 24-year-old Jatarious Reives following and encounter between the two. Thomas was also shot, and so were eight others.
“The question is, in a society prone to more violence, what is the (optimal) number of police?” Prine said. “Certainly, if you use the meter of New Year’s Eve, there are people who say: ‘listen, there were police everywhere’ and ‘I don’t understand how this happens.’ This proves my point. If someone intends to harm or kill someone, there is little the police can do.”
He added, “There was a police bicycle cruiser 30 feet from the shooting. The perception is (downtown) is unsafe. We are taking measures to address it.”
Prine said police are fighting a perception that there isn’t enough of a police presence in downtown Mobile. Loughlin, for example, said there are times in downtown Mobile when he can’t find a police officer late at night.
“There are things we can do and are starting to do and that includes running (police cars) with stationary cruise (blue) lights on,” Prine said. “That’s the signal to stop. We find that makes us more visible. But all that does is make people feel safe. It doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to prevent something from happening.”