Police, Newtown seek solutions to crowds, crime

Sarasota, Florida -- Police are concerned about large "dangerous" crowds in the Newtown district in the early morning, and Police Chief Bernadette DiPino wants businesses to close at 11 p.m.

And, while dozens of Newtown residents opposed the earlier closing during a city commission meeting Monday, even they are divided on what a solution could be.

Street cameras showed a video of a crowd of 200 to 300 people July 4th weekend along the business corridor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way between 1:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. in Newtown. And, a man is seen firing a gun into the air -- it is one of 539 police calls in a year and half to the area.

VIDEO: Newtown MLK surveillance with police chief commentary

"It really troubled me. I'm concerned about the safety of the community and police officers needed a creative solution," DiPino said.

Her solution is to close businesses -- except for bars -- by 11 p.m.

"I appreciate what the chief is trying to do but it's not a good step," says Lance Shabazz who owns three buildings along MLK. "If they restrict hours of business. people who want to develop business here will not come. .. You have a dead community.

"We're trying to designate the area as an entertainment district," Shabazz said of store owners in the Newtown district.

"I was appalled," says community leader Jetson Grimes about the police video. He said that 20 years ago Newtown businesses set a midnight closing time due to the same concerns for crowds and crime.

"That alleviated a lot of the problems we had in the same community," he said.

VIDEO: Extended interview with Jetson Grimes

DiPino said many of the people gathering there are from out of the area, like patrons of clubs in Bradenton, who then come to Newtown. Businesses close at 2 a.m. in Manatee County. "When the businesses shut down, 20 to 30 minutes later everybody leaves the area."

Grimes says the businesses are part of the problem. "Businesses open to 3 to 4 in the morning ... just opportunists. I feel they are an exploitation of this community."

According to a retail market consultant hired by the cit,y Newtown has a demand for an additional 42,000 square feet of retail space by 2019 that could pump another $13 million into the community.

Grimes says Newtown can be part of Sarasota but is now considered as a separate area, one that tourists and locals avoid. "It can be a destination but we have to work we have to bring safety into the community first," Grimes said. "When people feel safe they will come in and invest, spend their money and open businesses … until we do that we will be struggling."

So, what happens next? Sarasota city commissioners have asked its staff to report on the operating hours for other city businesses, and those in Bradenton and Manatee County. Code enforcement representatives will inspect several Newtown businesses for alleged violations and DiPino will be meeting with business owners.


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