Thursday, May 5, 2011

Safety First. Then Teamwork: New Hanover County ABC Board Approves Cooperative Agreement to Strengthen Public Safety in the Port City

Last week, the New Hanover County Alcoholic Beverage Control Board announced they will be training two local Wilmington police officers in ABC law enforcement. The vibrant downtown nightlife has prompted local officials and community members to seek alternative strategies in addressing public safety, especially as summer approaches and alcohol-related offenses increase.

Officers receiving ABC training will be allowed to enter bars whereas before they were not permitted inside unless invited. While there are a considerable number of incidences reported outside the bars and nightclubs, many of the altercations begin before anyone exits. By granting police access in bars, it is likely they will be able to cut down on underage drinking and alcohol-induced altercations.

Cape Fear Future has organized and participated in discussions on this issue since the fall of 2010. CFF representatives have met with several downtown groups, business leaders, community members, police officers, city officials, and state representatives. One of the biggest issues at the forefront of CFF discussions are constrained county and city budgets; but altering budget allocations at a time when all public services are suffering is a difficult task. Creative approaches using already available resources is a more viable option.

CFF has combed through countless crime statistics that overwhelmingly show the crime per capita is highest downtown. Interestingly enough, WPD data shows that for 20 to 21 hours of every day, there is actually very little violent crime. The vibrant downtown that many know and love is usually a safe place for all to enjoy. However, downtown changes drastically around 10 pm to bar closing time, especially on the weekends. There are hundreds of people exiting bars, hailing cabs, walking to their cars or socializing, many of whom are alcohol-impaired. This is when tempers flare and the violent behavior occurs. But even then, a larger problem than violent crime is maintaining order.

The CFF Foundation Board continues to encourage and support the cross-swearing of local police and ABC law enforcement. This is a progressive step forward in strengthening public safety and the overall quality of life in our region.

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