ROANOKE, Va. - Some downtown Roanoke restaurant owners say enough is enough after a downtown shooting that left people running for their lives.
The weekend violence comes as business owners get ready for a busy summer season, and Monday Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones said more police won't solve the problem despite numerous downtown business owners asking for exactly that.
The shooting happened on the corner of Market Square early Sunday morning as the bars let out, when many people were ducking for cover in the rain and heading to their cars or cabs.
It was a highly visible incident, which has led to many saying on social media that they won't come downtown because they're afraid of what's down there. That's discouraging news to downtown businesses and they are being proactive to help keep downtown safe.
Blue flashing lights and police tape brought a busy downtown weekend to a halt. Timothy Pendleton, 35, of Buchanan was shot in the hip because of an argument that stemmed from someone throwing up on someone else's shoes in Awful Arthur's a short time prior.
Todd Lancaster owns Awful Arthur's and said his staff followed their training for situations like this.
"We followed best practices that we know of, separate the parties, get one out, give it some time, get the other out, and everyone inside the building is safe," Lancaster said.
The shooting did not happen inside Awful Arthur's, but rather in the street after the bar closed and the parties involved were asked to leave. Lancaster said the people involved came in separately after last call and were never served a drink. He has no idea why it escalated after they left his place.
Donald Hines manages nearby Fork in the Market. They had nothing to do with the shooting and they haven't had issues inside their place, but he said the overall atmosphere of downtown is concerning. They've been cautious for a while now, and hours and business practices employed today are partly the way they are because of a shooting a block away a few years ago which left one person dead after a different bar argument spilled out into the street.
"There should at least be three to four police officers within two blocks of this area considering this is the central area of downtown, it's the busiest area of downtown," Hines said.
Fork in the Market management recently saw things downtown outside of their business that they decided couldn't be ignored and they made a choice to begin putting off-duty police officers at the front door a few weeks ago. They also have been closing earlier and earlier to try to deter others from acting badly from entering their establishment.
Hines and Lancaster are two of many in downtown Roanoke who want more officers, but Jones made it clear Monday that wasn't happening.
"Obviously putting more police officers won't fix it because this individual felt perfectly comfortable walking through at least 10 to get a gun, and shoot someone," Jones said.
Jones said it's a culture issue, not a police issue, and that it's difficult to control human behavior and even more difficult to influence someone's morals. Police notes show 26 officers were working in the city at the time of the shooting and Jones said 10 of them were within a few seconds of the scene.
Police data has shown crime in the downtown area trending downward and Downtown Roanoke Inc., an organization representing downtown businesses, said the area is already staffed 24/7 by police and coverage is greater on the weekends when asked about the incident. But Jones did acknowledge the fact that one high profile violent incident can have a much bigger impact than a reduction of other various smaller crimes.
Lancaster said his staff did not call police when they removed the problem customers from Awful Arthur's at separate times because removing people from the premises is a routine situation that comes with the territory of a late-night business. Jones said he welcomes calls in that type of situation and deferred to the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control as to what an establishment should do in that situation.
Both Fork in the Market and Awful Arthur's have a plan to be proactive going forward and work together with other late-night businesses downtown. They want to adopt a common set of rules and regulations, share information on customers who have been kicked out, and agree on best practices for off-duty police hiring.
"To where we're all on the same page, someone who causes an issue at one place and gets kicked out of that place won't be welcome at the others," Hines said.
Fork in the Market said they've ordered metal detector wands for their bouncers to use at their discretion. Awful Arthur's said they won't be overreacting to this situation, but they will be fine tuning their practices. They both wanted to make clear their businesses are safe, welcoming places and that things like this are rare.
"We love the police presence that we'd get and we'd certainly take more but we understand that they're doing what they can do," Lancaster said.
As the summer season heats up and downtown kicks into full swing, they're hoping that they can figure something out quickly to keep people coming out.
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