Police presence in bottom challenging area business

Richmond, VA (WWB) - Business owners in Shockoe Bottom say a beefed up police presence is hurting business.  Police have been swarming the Bottom since the murder of Justin Morgan in front of Have a Nice Day Café.

The mayor imposed a zero tolerance policy and increased police presence in the area. Tuesday, the Mayor, Commonwealth's Attorney, and Chief of Police addressed concerns from Bottom business owners.

Mayor Dwight Jones said he wanted the Shockoe Bottom area to be a place where people live, work, and seek entertainment and that he wants new business to come. But first, he says the issue of public safety must be tackled.

Business owners say they appreciate the effort, but they also need people to feel comfortable living in the area and spending money there. They say what they're seeing now from police-- is doing just the opposite.

"We've canvassed the area with special trained dogs and those dogs are trained to detect weapons and drugs in cars," said Jones. "We've talked to the club owners about staggering their dismissals."

They've also ramped up the number of police in the area- specifically when the bars are active. They've introduced flood lights and check points. Some nights, they even close streets coming into the area as the end of the evening nears.

Many business owners say the ramped up police presence is actually impacting their bottom line by preventing customers from coming in to spend money in those last few hours. Some landlords relayed that residents were prevented from coming home to their apartments.

"The closing of streets here at night sends a clear message that this is a dangerous place," Brian White, President of Main Street Realty told the Mayor. "This is a place for criminals. Don't cross this line, because it's bad news."

"If you were trying to come down to shockoe bottom at midnight to catch the last few hours of a Saturday night, you're met by road blocks and blue lights - it turns a lot of people away," added Shawn Gregory, with the Halligan Bar and Grill.

Between the violence over the last several years and recent road blocks McCormack's Irish Pub says his sales have decreased by a third. He brought his financial figures to the meeting, to show the Mayor.

Shawn Gregory acknowledges that the neighborhood did request more police presence, but he says these tactics...just aren't working for local business: "They deployed tactics that they thought were appropriate to try to eliminate such things as cruising and re-occurring issues and things, but the side effect of that has been that it makes the neighborhood look like a de-militarized zone."

The Mayor says his number one focus is public safety and that he'll take into consideration what business owners had to say today. He also said he plans to present his revitalization study for the bottom in the next 14 days and hopes that plan will include more retail.

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