During Monday night’s City Council Workshop, the Uptown Safety Task Force discussed how Greenville's nightlife is a danger to public safety and the impacts it has on the city financially.
Assistant City Manager, Ken Graves, said some of the issues downtown are disturbances from bars, public urination and trash. He said another issue involves parking lots which are where criminal activity occurs, such as assault and gun shots being fired.
Graves said the task force meets every Tuesday and goes over a weekly report of what happened the previous weekend downtown.
The Uptown Safety Task Force was created to investigate downtown Greenville's nightclubs and “hot spots” for criminal activity. Members of the task force who spoke at the workshop were Graves, GPD Police Chief Mark Holtzman, Director of Community Development Thomas Barnett and Planner II Chantae Gooby.
Holtzman said a lot of the ideas coming from this are based on what GPD sees downtown weekly. He said there are thousands of people downtown every night and GPD has to pay officers overtime due to it.
Holtzman said around 11 p.m. every night 20 officers patrol downtown, those of which are pulled from other areas of the city.
“We’re pulling them (officers) out of neighborhoods, we’re pulling our gang unit down, we’re pulling neighborhood officers downtown just to police our way through this and get through the night,” Holtzman said.
Holtzman suggested paid parking for late night hours to recover some of the costs and hold people accountable.
The parking system would require drivers to enter their license plate numbers, according to Holtzman. This would allow GPD to know who was in a parking deck if an incident occurred in one, he said.
Holtzman recommended an ambassadors program based on the model in Raleigh. The ambassadors in Raleigh are from a private security company, and in Greenville, they would work as “nighttime eyes and ears.”
“When the nighttime crowd starts to come in around 11, 11:30 and they’re filling up those parking lots and we have that transition going on they’re seeing someone in those parking lots, highly visible, eyes and ears connecting back to us,” Holtzman said.
Currently, officers drive from parking lots repeatedly for visibility but some are a difficult because they get busy when the clubs let out, according to Holtzman.
Holtzman said when clubs let out around 2 a.m. everyone is forced to go in one direction. He said he contacted ECU about the number of students that ride their buses on Friday and Saturday night.
The number of students who used to ride the bus on Friday and Saturday night was 5,000, but it is now down to 3,000 on a weekend, according to Holtzman.
He said most people end up around Cotanche Street and Reade Circle and crowds swell up on Reade with people trying to get up the hill where there is a major construction project, Town Creek Culvert.
Holtzman said to find out what worked efficiently for Greenville on Halloween night, GPD collaborated with ECU to accomplish two things. One was to have buses go point to point which is from downtown to each individual apartment complex. The other was to have the bus stop moved from Reade Street to the bus stop at Mendenhall.
“Once they’re back on their campus (ECU) they take a lot more ownership and responsibility in this plan than what we have now. Right now, we have 3,000 kids that are leaving the downtown, staying in the downtown (area), they’re all our responsibility, this helps spread some of that responsibility back to the school campus,” Holtzman said.
A big problem facing downtown is citizens not have adequate access to bathrooms leading to urination in public areas in the downtown, Public Works Building and Grounds Superintendent Kevin Heifferon said. One solution the taskforce suggested was portable toilet trailers at three locations: Hodges lot, Edwards lot and the parking deck area.
“Some of the bars don’t have adequate restrooms or supplies for the restrooms and that certainly creates a problem in our public areas like our city parking lots, our alleys and our parking deck especially, the stairwells,” Heifferon said.
When asked how often this problem occurs, Heifferon said public urination has caused city staff to have to clean the park deck stairs weekly.
Holtzman said this is not a problem unique to Greenville, and added, many other cities face this issue as well.