A spate of recent armed robberies in the downtown and McKinley Street Strip area of Lafayette has at least one Jefferson Street merchant calling for dramatic efforts to curb the late-night population — and the crimes of opportunity that go along with it — and City-Parish President Joey Durel is backing the plan.
In an e-mail thread _The Independen_t was copied on over the Thanksgiving weekend, Rob Robison, owner of Jefferson Street market, urges the Durel administration to take on the downtown’s many bars and nightclubs:
I opened the paper this morning to find that on Wednesday morning there was yet another armed robbery downtown. The situation is spiraling out of control. If some sort of drastic measures are not immediately taken, we are going to watch years of hard work and private investment go down the drain. The problem, at its roots, is simple: this community has tacitly condoned the prolifieration of a criminal enterprise (bars, who by and large flaunt the laws — sneer at them — while stuffing their pockets at the expense of law abiding citizens and taxpayers) which has erupted into a contagion of lawlessness. I would suggest that you declare the municipal equivalent of martial law: a 12 o’clock curfew within the district, for instance. This last hold up occurred in the parking lot of the public library. Why not close it? Why should the taxpayers provide parking for the bar owner’s patrons?
Someone is going to get killed... There are few communities of any caliber that would allow this to happen. I implore you to address this as a priority while there is still time.
On Thursday afternoon, Durel responds to Robison, indicating that he’s on board with taking steps to address crime in the district.
It is time for the [Downtown Development Authority/Downtown Lafayette Unlimited] to stand before the council to demand such measures. I am fine with a 21 age limit, curfew, go cups and a goal of reducing the number of bars downtown. I simply don’t seem to have any support from where it needs to come from, including the council. If I can declare a midnight curfew legally, and ya’ll come a meeting to ask for it...I’m there!
In six years of office, downtown is the ONLY place in this town that this continues to be an issue. It IS the bars and vagrants in the area. Sensitivities have to be put aside. Cameras, signage and any means possible must be used. I would rather see the bars leave instead of businesses like yours. Time for everyone to take a stand together.
On Friday, John Milton, a Lafayette lawyer and former assistant district attorney, also responds to Robison’s e-mail: “There are several issues that the community should be concerned to the point of outrage. This is one of them,” Milton replies. “ I am interested in meeting on this issue to assist in creating the political will to make things better.”
Robison said on Monday that barring 18-20 year olds from entering bars would be a huge first step in addressing the crime problem, estimating it would reduce the late-night population by up to 50 percent. Reducing the late-night population, he contends, would limit the opportunities for criminals to prey on bar patrons — “low-hanging fruit,” as he refers to them. Current law allows people 18 to 20 years old to enter bars, with the caveat that they wear a wrist band identifying them as being underage and unable to buy alcohol. But Robison contends some bars routinely ignore the wrist bands, or the underage patrons find ways to obtain alcohol, and that the economic incentive for the bars to serve all patrons regardless of age makes downtown Lafayette a magnet for underage drinking.
Lafayette Police, meanwhile, say they plan to address the issue of crime by stepping up patrols — “reallocating resources,” as spokesman Cpl. Paul Mouton told The Daily Advertiser.