NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Following several violent incidents, the city is hiring a consulting firm to help them improve safety in their downtown entertainment district.
Tuesday the City of Norfolk, in partnership with the Downtown Norfolk Council (DNC), announced they had hired Safe Night LLC to help them implement a new nightlife management strategy.
Recently, bars and restaurants that offer entertainment after midnight downtown have faced criticism after several people have been shot and killed outside their doors. Nine shootings in total have occurred in the downtown area in 2022.
The firm, which has also helped build similar strategies in other Virginia communities, champions using a voluntary hospitality accreditation program to motivate businesses to operate by the same standards.
Their ultimate goal: make it so people feel safe downtown at all hours.
Safe Night LLC was founded in 2018 by a team that helped implement a change in Arlington County beginning in 2014. At that time, weekend evening police calls to the Clarendon entertainment district were on the rise with persistent crime, public disorder, and alcohol beverage control violations.
Mary Miller, president & CEO, of the Downtown Norfolk Council, said she first learned of the company following a deadly quintuple shooting along Granby Street in March. She said discussions with the firm have been going on since May.
“We really believe this program can get us back on track to being a very safe downtown,” Miller said.
While the DNC focuses on enhancing business and culture in the downtown district, the city and Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) board oversee most of the rules bars and restaurants are held to.
Following the most recent shooting, City Manager Chip Filer promised to once again ramp up enforcement. He said business owners can’t claim immunity for what happens outside — when the city can trace the genesis of what happened — to inside the club. Two clubs were shut down by City Council last year.
Safe Night focuses on improving relationships between business owners, state agencies and the city government. Miller said under an accreditation program, bars and restaurants will help hold each other to standards that everyone can help come up with.
“[Businesses] will get a seal,” Miller said. “There will be some sort of branding that will be on the establishment so if you are going out at night with your friends, you’ll know ‘oh, this is a business that went through this accreditation model. This is a business I can feel safe going into with my friends’.”
Examples of accreditation standards would include requiring all businesses complete mandatory employee training for identifying intoxicated patrons and fake identifications, keeping records of maintenance and night occupancy counts as well as a “banned” patrons list.
“You’re kicked out of one, you are kicked out of all for the night,” Miller said. “I mean there may be some cases where someone is kind of kicked out of a bar and they are kicked out for good and they are simply not allowed back in. But it is an instantaneous messaging program so that you are at a bar on Granby street, you misbehave, that bar asks you to leave. That bar is notifying all the other bars in our downtown.”
The program will cost roughly $120,000 and be funded by the city Miller said. It will take several months to implement.
“Whether you are coming out to dinner at six or seven at night, whether you are coming out at eight, whether you want to grab a drink after a show or whether you are a younger demographic that wants to be out at 12 or one in the morning, everybody has the right to feel safe,” Miller said.