Editorial: Richland Council shouldn’t reject 2 a.m. bar closing out of hand

September 11, 2012 

WHILE WE have a hunch that requiring bars in unincorporated Richland County to close at 2 a.m. might help curb crime and violence, we wouldn’t expect County Council to take our word for it. We’re lowly journalists, not crime fighters.

But the fact that Sheriff Leon Lott supports the proposal is reason enough for County Council to at least give it careful consideration and not summarily dismiss it, as some on the 11-member body seem to want to do.

While Sheriff Lott gravitates toward the spotlight and can be a bit flashy at times, he isn’t one to seek new rules that simply create busy work for his deputies. He is a dedicated, reasonable lawman whose aim is to keep the county safe.

The sheriff is unambiguous in his position that a mandatory 2 a.m. closing would cut down on violent crime: “I don’t believe — I know it would.”

While late-night assaults, rapes and murders haven’t risen significantly in recent years, no level of violent crime is tolerable. And we can’t dismiss the fear and insecurity that crime and violence create. Unsafe communities can become undevelopable communities.

In two separate weekends in August, nightclub security guards were shot and killed, prompting the manager of a St. Andrews apartment complex to write a letter to the editor complaining that residents were fearful because crime seemed to be on the rise.

When Columbia was searching for ways to reduce crime and violence in Five Points, it assembled a group of bar and restaurant owners and others that crafted a plan that included a 2 a.m. citywide bar closing ordinance, which city officials say has been effective. To the degree that it has worked, we wouldn’t be surprised if some revelers have moved their party into unincorporated Richland, increasing its late-night challenges.

The idea of a mandatory closing time in the county, which will go before County Council at its meeting today, first emerged in 2010, when Councilman Jim Manning sought to address noise and crime problems near bars in his council district, which includes the major corridors of Decker Boulevard, Percival Road and Two Notch Road.

But the council can’t consider imposing restrictions in just one council district; there are other areas — St. Andrews? — that are equally, if not more, affected by late-night crime and violence. At the same time, there are more rural areas that don’t have the same problems.

Those and other factors should help shape the discussion that the council needs to have on this matter. Also, the council could consider implementing the restriction on a temporary basis to see how it works. If it is effective, continue it; if not, let it die.

One thing for sure is that the council shouldn’t simply do nothing. At the very least, it should follow Columbia’s example and bring businesses, residents and other affected parties together to discuss ways to address crime and violence at late-night spots.

Quite frankly, that would be useful even if a 2 a.m. closing requirement is approved. No matter how effective requiring bars to close early might be, that alone will not cure all ills. Ultimately, it is going to take a more comprehensive effort to improve public safety and security.

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