CHARLESTON, SC - After spending more than half a million dollars on new police officers for Charleston’s Entertainment District, arrests in the district are up.
In October 2013, the City of Charleston spent $600,000 from its Hospitality Tax to pay for eight new police officers to patrol the Entertainment District.
"As that has grown there has become a necessity to have dedicated officers assigned to that area," Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said.
The district consists of Market and East Bay streets area; King Street from Broad Street north to Poplar Street; and Meeting Street from Broad to Cooper Street.
Before the officers were hired, there were 853 arrests in the district area from November 1, 2012 to June 1, 2013. That number jumped to 985 for November 1, 2013 to June 1, 2014, a 15 percent increase.
"From an effectiveness standpoint, it's very difficult to measure what you've prevented," Mullen said. "What we're hoping is that we're going to be able to do is reduce those numbers as we go forward and have more voluntary compliance."
Mullen sees the numbers as sending a message.
"We're not going to tolerate people who try to come down there and create problems," Mullen said.
As the owner of Charleston Crab House, John Keener is against the ordinance forcing bars and restaurants to close earlier.
"What is the city trying to accomplish? They really haven't told us exactly what they're trying to accomplish by the proposal and secondly, why have they done things like exclude the hotels," Keener said.
Keener says more officers make the area safer.
"Putting more officers on the street at night time is essential,” Keener said. “We think it's going to help upper King Street and all of Market Street and East Bay."
"I could hire a bunch more officers to put down there but I don't think that's the answer," Mullen said. "I can restrict businesses and I don't think that's really the total answer either."
Mullen says there's no easy solution.
"There is no one. It's not possible,” Mullen said. “That's why it's so dynamic, and that's why it's so difficult. If there was just one right answer, this would be easy, but it's not just one right answer.
The lack of a clear solution is why Keener says the city shouldn’t try to push the new ordinance through.
"I think right now the city needs to slow down, do a study on this,” Keener said. “Have the community input on it instead of just doing a knee jerk reaction.”
It’s the one point about the ordinance that Mullen agrees with.
"Let's take a breath, let's pause,” Mullen said. “Let’s try to reflect on where we are and try to come up with a good plan for where we want to go as a city. Everybody is a stakeholder in this and everybody should have the opportunity to provide their input."
Keener also says he thinks wider sidewalks would keep people from bumping into each other when they leave bars and starting fights.
The city has scheduled a public meeting on the ordinance for July 17th at 5:30 pm at the Charleston Museum.