Group approves trespass ban policy


Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 12:02 a.m.

In an effort to curb violence downtown associated with drinking, the Gainesville Downtown Owners and Tenants association adopted a policy Wednesday that could effectively ban patrons from every bar and restaurant downtown for a year if they get involved in violence.

The board of directors of the downtown association voted Wednesday to enter into an agreement with the Gainesville Police Department that could make any trespass order that arises over violence apply to all downtown businesses.

So if police are called about a fight at a downtown bar, the owner of that bar could impose on the person involved in the fight a trespass warning that would ban that person from the premises for a year. That ban would apply to every bar and restaurant that signs up to be included in the agreement.

Several representatives from area bars and restaurants attended the meeting Wednesday and expressed interest in joining the list. Others in attendance made comments indicating that bars and restaurants near the university in the midtown area, as well as establishments elsewhere in the city, would be interested in being included.

"We obviously don't want to make it so that downtown is the place where nonviolent people go, and all the violent people go to midtown," said Capt. Lonnie Scott with the Gainesville Police Department.

And while the focus of the agreement is on violence and weapons, some of those at the meeting questioned whether it should also pertain to offenses such as narcotics and panhandling.

But Ken McGurn, a local developer who spearheaded the effort to get the policy in place, as well as Scott with GPD, said it would be better to keep the policy focused on violence and leave other crimes to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

"We've had people get shot and killed downtown," McGurn said. "We have people bringing their knives and their guns downtown supposedly to protect themselves . . . Let's keep this focused. Let's keep it simple."

City Manager Russ Blackburn attended the meeting Wednesday, and several attendees said they hoped the city might follow suit and make the policy apply to public areas like the downtown parking garage and the community plaza.

Blackburn said his staff will be looking into it.

"Obviously, we're in a unique position because it is public property, where trespass typically pertains to private property," he said. "We can trespass people from public property, but the threshold is pretty high."

Scott with GPD said the policy could go into effect within the next few weeks, as soon as officials are able to compile a list of all the businesses that wish to be involved and can set up a system for tracking those who are banned.

The idea is that all the businesses involved will receive the photo and name of each person who is banned for violence, and that trespass would be effective for one year. Businesses that sign up to be part of the agreement can make exceptions for certain patrons, if desired, but it must be put in writing and provided to the police department.

Managers from 101 Downtown were among those in attendance Wednesday. They said they have not yet had any violence break out at their establishment, but are in support of any measure that might prevent violence in the future.

"We're pretty excited about the possibilities and what could come from this," said manager Ryan Prodesky. "We hope this can make the downtown safer for everyone."

Alice Wallace can be reached at 352-338-3109 or alice.wallace@gvillesun.com.

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