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Safety on Main Street seems to be improving. Businesses and residents still have concerns

 a picture of main street in downtown cincinnati at night
Bill Rinehart

Nearly 50 Cincinnati business owners say the city needs to do a better job reducing crime on Main Street.

A city-sponsored working group has been meeting since November and conducted a survey of businesses and residents. City Council's Healthy Neighborhoods Committee heard an update on the group's progress Tuesday.

"I think this is a big improvement on the way that we have handled problems in the past," said Council Member Liz Keating, also a member of the working group. She says it's helpful to have so many city departments and community partners in the same room on a regular basis.

Cincinnati Police say violent crime in the area has gone down over the last several months, but the rates are still higher than most of Cincinnati.

District 1 Commander Capt. Matthew Hammer says one way they track progress is calculating a violence score.

"We use offense reports where there's a gun crime involved, we use shootings as a source of data, and then we also use our calls for service for shots fired, and reports of a person with a gun," Hammer said. "All of those reports go into a formula."

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Hammer says the violence score for the area around Main Street was over 200 last August, around the time nine people were injured in a single shooting. As of last month, the violence score is down to 105.

So far the group has implemented new drop-off and pick-up zones for ridesharing, and a small business pop-up program with 3CDC to fill vacant store fronts.

Lindsey Swadner owns the bar The Hub OTR Main Street and she also lives in Over-the-Rhine. She told council members pedestrian safety is her biggest concern and suggests closing Main Street from traffic during peak hours on Fridays and Saturdays.

"I think we have to choose, strategically, as a city, are we willing to sit here and say your car can't drive on Main Street for 10 hours out of the weekend in order to make sure people can go home and lay in their bed, alive?" Swadner said.

A few council members say they'd like to explore that idea. Keating says she was skeptical until spending some time on Main Street on a recent Saturday night.

"There were so many people out and then there were cars racing down the street," she said. "You saw a lot of drag racing, and there were a lot of bachelorette parties; stretch Hummer limos racing down the street."

Keating says it could be done in a way where emergency vehicles could still access Main Street when needed.

RELATED: Council is likely to give 3CDC funds for a small business program. How much will it cost?

Swadner says she'd like to see more lighting and a greater focus on place-making — making public spaces more welcoming and useful for the community.

"We have to keep going," she said. "This is not anywhere close to done, but we're stepping towards the right direction."

Business owner and resident concerns

Jamie Beringer owns Jamiesons Urban Pet Spa on Main Street. She says she attended safety meetings in late 2022. “[It] was stated by police that 'business owners need to do their part,' " Beringer wrote in a letter to the working group. "It was never clear to me what that meant. Am I supposed to get a weapon, hire private security, or make citizen arrests?"

Many business owners complained of open drug deals and drug use, open container violations, gambling, illegal parking, and other low-level offenses.

"We are once again begging for the city to start enforcing these violations," wrote David Gronauer, managing partner of Mr. Pitiful's. "We are not asking for the neighborhood community to be harassed, or even arrested. What we are asking for, is for tickets to be written for these violations, and for it to be understood that these types of behaviors will no longer be tolerated in the neighborhood."

LISTEN: Cincinnati's moves to combat gun violence

Keating says there are complaints about loitering, but the city's response has to be balanced.

"A lot of the residents don't have front yards or backyards to hang out in that you would see in other neighborhoods. And so a lot of it's the residents just hanging out in their own neighborhood, hanging out in front of the building that they live in," Keating said. "So how do we balance making sure that we're still protecting the residents and being able to socialize with their residents, while also managing all the people coming in?"

You can read all the letters submitted to the working group at this link.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.