New residential development in downtown Lawrence is just one reason to put new emphasis on making downtown safety a 24/7 priority.
Gunshots last weekend at the Last Call, 729 N.H., is one of a series of incidents that is drawing new attention to the issue of downtown security. Violent confrontations have been reported at other downtown venues, including the incident outside the Granada, 1020 Mass., which resulted in the death of a Topeka man.
Mayor Mike Amyx has it right on two counts concerning this issue. "This just can't be tolerated," Amyx said of last weekend's gunshots. All of Lawrence agrees. And, Amyx added, "we need to talk about downtown as a whole."
Although it might be tempting to focus on a few businesses that seem to attract troublemakers, this kind of violence is a moving target. Lawrence's goal should be to move it outside of downtown and the city.
Lawrence residents have, perhaps, been too willing to accept the different faces of our downtown, which often has been described as having three sides. There is the daytime downtown filled with people shopping, lunching and working. There is the evening downtown filled with people having a drink, having dinner and attending events. And there is the late-night downtown which too often is marked by unruly crowds drinking too much and looking for mischief.
Many downtown visitors simply choose to avoid the late-night scene, but that becomes less and less possible as new residential developments like the Hobbs-Taylor lofts crop up. It also is an issue for people who choose to stay in downtown hotels or enjoy late meals or concerts downtown. These people deserve - and will demand - to be safe. If they don't feel safe, they will simply decide to stay away, which certainly is not a healthy sign for downtown.
As Amyx said, it's not enough to target certain businesses for scrutiny, although local law enforcement should be aware of trouble spots. The reality is that regardless of where a conflict arises, it can easily gravitate to any downtown location where innocent bystanders may become victims.
Increased law enforcement presence probably needs to be part of the equation, but other measures, such as earlier closing times for downtown bars, might be needed. Some of the actions probably won't be popular with downtown bar owners, but that shouldn't be the City Commission's primary concern.
As Amyx also noted, this situation "just can't be tolerated." If it is allowed to persist, it will drive residents - and residences - out of downtown Lawrence and have a devastating impact on business investment. Commissioners shouldn't hesitate to take tough action to make downtown safe for those who live, work and attend events at any hour of the day or night.