NORFOLK, Va. - The city is partnering with a consulting firm called Safe Night LLC to come up with ways to improve safety and communication downtown following several shootings this year.
The group will begin their work in September and will observe what's going on during a few busy nights to assess what's working and what's not working.
"The safety has to come first because you do want people to feel like we're going to go out and enjoy ourselves," said Molly Mastoras, co-founder of Safe Night.
A big part of the strategy will be communication and working with the city and businesses to trust each other. "It's about management. It's not about perfection. It's about things improving and people feeling more open to talk to each other," said Mastoras.
They'll have training with the city and local businesses. They'll also be working with the stakeholders to develop standards for an accreditation program businesses can opt into. That could mean something like employees at businesses in the program all agree to go through additional training.
"This is a way to legitimize and say if we had an issue, could we prove we were doing the right thing? We're going to find that many businesses don't have employee policies, so this accreditation can come in and fill that void," said Dimitrios Mastoras, another co-founder.
There's been a push by some to make the bars and restaurants close at midnight in downtown. Safe Night LLC says they could provide some insights into how that's worked in other areas, but any decisions will come from the city.
They say they've had successes in Dallas and Arlington, Va., where restaurant owners worked out a policy that if someone is banned from one restaurant they're banned from the others.
"Once you're banned from one business another business will decide to honor it," said Dimitrios.
The Downtown Norfolk Council, which advocates for downtown, could promote the businesses that opt-in to the program and help find funding for things like additional security cameras.
"We're going to try to provide some carrots to get them in," said Mary Miller, President & CEO of the Downtown Norfolk Council.
The program will last six to nine months. "This is not a throw the switch type of thing, but it is a long-term solution," said Preston Carraway, the vice president of the Downtown Norfolk Civic League, which supports the initiative.
"I'm really actually pretty hopeful for this because it's worked in other places," Carraway said.