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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) – The community is at odds over who should step up and help fight the ongoing violence downtown and it seems everyone is pointing a finger at someone else to come up with solutions.

Some say it’s the Police Department’s job, but Chief Ralph Evangelous said Monday he’s got as many officers downtown on the weekends as he can spare, and says the teens and 20-something’s who constantly fight should take responsibility for themselves.

Bar owners we’ve heard from say what happens after patrons leave their bar is not their problem.

And still others say city leaders should step up and come up with solutions. But Mayor Bill Saffo points his finger back at the bar owners and says they should take more responsibilities for their customers. He told a local TV station Tuesday that he’s asking owners and employees to have stricter policies and to step up security.

This is the same mayor that back in September said at a city council session that it was the media’s fault for creating an image of downtown as being a violent place. “If it’s a slow news day and something is going on at the bars, it’s going to get attention,” Saffo said Tuesday night. “Unfortunately the perception of downtown is that it’s violent. I can tell you I’ve walked down late hours, and I’ve never been bothered, but if it bleeds it leads.” When we asked him to clarify what he meant, he quickly backtracked saying, “I’m not blaming it on the media. If it was taken that way, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to go that way, and I probably shouldn’t have said that. I think the media’s helped us in shedding light on some of the problems.”

Saffo says he hopes state lawmakers will give local leaders the authority to close down bars where there is on-going violence and says the North Carolina ABC Board has helped by not allowing more bars to open downtown.

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23 Comments on "DOWNTOWN VIOLENCE: Mayor Saffo’s answer… bar owners should take more responsibility"

2015 years 10 months ago

Ok, so here are a few items that need to be clarified, and possibly some ideas to help.
-There are 2-4 establishments that are the problem downtown- these places cater to a young and undesirable crowd. Its not a coincedence that all of these incidents happen at the same corner; 2nd and market. The Rhino and Rox seem to be the culprits. The club owners will continue to let in underage patrons because of the money that they can charge for admission at the door. They make a ton of money at the door and use little product at the bar. Why would they stop doing it?
-what needs to happen:
A magistrate needs to be put downtown. There are a number of vacant stores downtown that could be converted into a holding cell and a magistrates office. Once a crime is committed the criminal is brought to the holding area and goes immediately before a judge. This will do two things: take the criminal element off the street quickly, as they will either be cited with a ticket, or transported to the jail when the downtown holding area fills up, or after 3 AM when things are starting to wind down. It will also put give Wilmington’s downtown clean up some “teeth”.
The second thing that must occur is a ZERO tolerance policy must go into effect. IF a person is observed urinating, puking, being drunk and disorderly, instigating a fight, LOITERING, fighting etc, they MUST be taken into custody immediately, and brought before the magistrate. This will be an extremely hard process in the begining however it is a process that must be done. Once people realize that their behavior will be tied to a consequence, that behavior then starts to change. Young and old people alike know that you dont drive over the bridge to wrightsville beach (in either direction) after drinking or cause a nusance because of the zero tolerance policy of the Wrightsville beach cops have on drinking and driving as well a public drunkiness.
It will take some new thinking to fix the problems downtown-

2015 years 10 months ago

I never go downtown anymore because of the crowds and violence. Downtown is slowly dying because no one will crack down on the young thugs that are now running the place. Want to see downtown improve and grow? Get rid of the bars and the hundreds of young punks hanging out around them.

2015 years 10 months ago

Well I think everyone forgets that with the economy being the way it is there are alot of budget cuts so there might not be as may police officers as before!! We really need to stop blaming the police for these thugs, The bars and thugs need to be held accountable! The bars wanna sell em alcohol and fuel the fire then open thier doors and throw em on the streets at 2 am, The bars need to step up their own security if not then they really just need to close thier doors

2015 years 10 months ago

I have stated this before and now I will state it again.
I lived downtown for over six years. I have been to cities across the globe. The only reason I moved away from downtown is for a quieter place with a yard for my newborn.
With that said, downtown used to have a surveillance bus, a paddy wagon, many patrols on foot and in cars, along with horseback patrols. This was not every night, but on busy weekend nights there was a large police force in the entertainment district.
Where has it gone? I have on many occasions walked from The Firebelly Lounge to Market and Fifth, not seeing one officer. This is unnacceptable. The few patrols are at market and front.
There used to be police cars in the median at second and front, not lately. The police force downtown has all but dissappeared. You tell me what the problem is.
All businesses downtown and city wide pay sufficient tax to support a decent force for downtown, where is the money going?
Every city I have been to has a large police presence in their entertainment district. This includes Savannah, Charleston and Greensboro to name a few. I name these cities because I have seen the comments about how we could be a little Charleston if it wasn’t for the bars.
Well let me tell you these cities have bars, a lot of them. THEY ALSO HAVE SUFFICIENT POLICING WHEN NEEDED. Where is our sufficient policing when needed. NOT DOWNTOWN.
These cities also provide downtown clean-up crews. It is just a fact, the busier the district the more city support is needed. Plain and simple.
To close, the individuals causing trouble are to blame for the problems caused. The city is responsible for policing these individuals. Without sufficienst policing the problems will persist.

2015 years 10 months ago

“Shut down Rhino and the other flagrant violators for 60 days” for what?
What crime did the rhino club commit?
What happened was awful, but how did the rhino break the law?
I still dont understand that.

2015 years 10 months ago

Borrow a Van. Put the Mayor & City Council aboard with a sharp hard nosed, agressive reporter. Send them to Raleigh. Have them insist the Governor return to Wilmington with the 3 State ABC Commissioners, the head of ALE & SBI.

Shut down Rhino and the other flagrant violators for 60 days while the ALE & SBI investigate the causes of these repeat incidents.

Based on the investigation, reinstate operating privileges OR permanently ban the owners from holding ABC permits or operating similar types of clubs anywhere in NC?

That ought to get someone’s attention.

2015 years 10 months ago

So all of the, “…noise, litter and hoolaginism” as you state are pretty common in most every city environment, both large and small. Surely you knew the consequences of moving to a popular downtown area that has had an active nightlife for many years BEFORE you made the CHOICE to purchase there? I considered buying a home downtown for a short time. After about four minutes I said, “I don’t think so…”

Peace, tranquility, birds chirping, the smell of grass, the lack of automobile noise, people noise, light pollution, smell of puke and urine. You’ll find these and the lack of these in the country…not in the city…not even in the city of Perfect, in the county of Perfect. Perhaps in the city of NOTHING, but nobody goes there anyway, much less buys a home there. Geeeeeeez…can someone bring these limp-wristed city peeps some cheese to go with their whine?

2015 years 10 months ago

So are you saying that we should all ignore the obvious increase in violence, vandalism, etc.? I don’t beleive that running from a place that you care about is the answer. Don’t fool yourself. If nothing is done about it, it will leak your way eventually. Granted most populated cities have an element of late night debotchery but when it increases to an unacceptable level for the home owners that believe in the potential of the city, it’s time to speak out. And it doesn’t sound like you’ve done much traveling because i have certainly been to small cities that are given proper attention by the homeowners and community that’s nightlife hasn’t seen a stabbing in a year. I’d rather be accused of whining…than not caring. And yes, I love cheese. Who’s limp wristed?

2015 years 10 months ago




2015 years 10 months ago

Well said. Saffo is about as much a man of the people as Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick are contenders for the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m sure he’d enjoy seeing all the bars downtown get shut down so he can replace them with overpriced condos that nobody is going to want to buy in this economy.

2015 years 10 months ago

Apparently Mayor Saffo has NO idea what’s going on downtown. Let’s look at the tax dollars that are generated by these downtown establishments and how much of that money is put back into downtown. Let’s talk about how much the bar owners already do to help the problem. Mayor Saffo, if you want to help out the problem, let’s start holding the citizens who cause the problems responsible too.
As for the state letting the city control bars, let’s think about what would go on downtown if there was no nightlife. There would either be a bunch of failing, over-priced restaurants, or there would be a ton of crime like there was before bars moved down there in the 90’s. Not to mention the money the city would lose and the depreciating value of his property. Then again, we all can’t have the luxury of going to the Landfall Country Club for drinks when we want.

2015 years 10 months ago

I used to hang out downtown all the time back in the 90’s. I walked around alone until I found my people, usually at The Ice House. At that time, downtown was filled with Artists, musicians, and just plain good intellegent, interesting people. The music and the people were awesome. I watched as it slowly turned to a college hangout and just became overcrowed. I was only 20 something at the time, but my mind set was far different from this new kind of people coming down. I sooo miss the good ol’ days! And I surely miss The Ice House. These people forced out all the folks that made downtown great. We all fled and found other places to go. So sad.

2015 years 10 months ago

So, holding the bar/club owners responsible for the actions of their patrons is “stupid,” but holding the police responsible for a problem they didn’t create is reasonable? Come on!!!

2015 years 10 months ago

To hold the bar owners responsible for the actions of others outside of the club is absolutely a stupid statement.
#1- Get more foot patrol officers out there to handle this.
#2-Change some laws that allow the officers to enter these locations.
I worked many years in law enforcement handling the club scene and when I had a problem with the business/owners I called in my local State Liquor Authority and Board of Health and they had a field day writing the owners up. When the club owners refused to play nice with the police, out came the troops and we hit them right where it hurts, in the pockets.
#3-Require all security guards to be licensed by the state and require them to keep the front of the club area clear or be cited.
Bottom line here, security and the owners are not responsible for the actions of others outside of the club when they leave. This problem falls on the Police Department, and if the Chief and Mayor think differently they should resign or move to another planet.
Want to safe money and hire new cops, stop allowing the officers to take the patrol car home.

2015 years 10 months ago

…they allowed underage patrons to come into the club and consume alcohol. One died and the other was injured from knifings. Many disruptions with associated violence in the past. Over 200 911 calls since ’08.

So, just what is it that you’re having difficulties understanding?

2015 years 10 months ago

What makes you say they allowed underage patrons to consume?
I haven’t read ANYTHING about that, have you?
There was no fights in, or infront of their club.
Apparently it happened 100 feet away.
Sooo…I ask again, what crimes did they commit.

2015 years 10 months ago

Sounds like to me you just got a ticket from the guys in blue! I know most of those guys who work downtown and they are for the most part doing a good job. If you run to break up every fight that takes place downtown you had better have a pair of running shoes on. Besides, the officers are right. Let them fight and when its over they can exchange information and take out their own warrants. The officers are downtown to deter more serious crime, not some idiot wanting to fight with some other idiot. I bet you wanted to work for WPD but they wouldn’t give you a job, right?

2015 years 10 months ago

It’s getting really old reading Chief Evangelous’ responses to the issues downtown. For example, the officers are doing all that they can, they can’t make arrests unless they see the fights happening, or there are as many officers as he can spare. Come on!

I have worked the door of Wilmington bars for quite some time now. Yes, at the door, out on the street, in the middle of it all. Not much has changed. Say the city “spares” 10 officers for any given weekend night. What you’ll find is two groups of 5 officers standing in a circle talking amonst themselves, one at the intersection of Market and Front St., under the Finkelstein’s awning, and one at the corner of Market and 2nd St. Occasionally a twosome will break away from the group and walk the length of the block, only to return to their “nest”. When the horses are present, forget it, most of their evening is spent protected in the vacancy across from Rum Runners, unable to view either direction on Front St.

I’ve witnessed too many fights that, yes, the police have witnessed and failed to make arrests. Like others have said, in almost every case, the suspects are sent on their merry ways. Myself and others have questioned the officers as to why those that fought were released and they’d either ignore the request or come up with some ridiculous response. On more than one occasion I was told, “we don’t want to do the paperwork.”

I used to call 911 and report the fights, often before they’d occur, but I’ve nearly given up for two reasons. For one, there were times the 911 center wouldn’t pick up the call. (Maybe not enough operators?) I’d let it ring, honestly, 9-13 times with no answer. I’d hangup and wait for a call back. Second, the response time of the officers is at most times embarrassing. Of course, they’d have to respond to the scene from their “nests”, which would take enough time in itself, and also, they couldn’t show any less sense of urgency as they walked to the scene of the fights. I’ve come to enjoy having the Sheriff’s Department downtown lately. They, dare I say, seem to “care” more. I’ll never forget a night I saw a group of WPD officers walking to a fight at Market and Second St. and a Sheriff ran right past them! It didn’t even phase the WPD officers.

It seems as though the officers have become completely reliant on their radios. In other words, they don’t seem to be watching people’s behavior or listening for arguments, or any other sign that may indicate a brewing altercation. Like I stated earlier, they seem to be more comfortable talking to each other until the call comes over the radio. At that point it’s usually too late.

I often wonder if Chief Evangelous is ever present downtown on the weekends. Or, when he is, do the officers act as most employees do when the “boss” is around and suddenly remember how to work? Whether more arrests happen or not, I think the most effective thing the police can do is spread out. Have one or two officers at each intersecion. Or, one or two at the intersection and one pacing the block. I think this simple presence, alone, would have a huge effect. Having that constant presence would prevent almost all occurrences. Don’t think so? Prove me wrong! I’ve never understood how having so many officers standing in one place is more effective than the same amount spread out. If a single officer is unable to resolve the early stages of an altercation he/she could always use his/her radio. Right?

I know this is long and winded, but this is what is observed each weekend night. It is important to know that I have a lot of respect for the Wilmington Police Department, I just don’t think they’re performing to their full potential. I can only speak for the downtown club scene. If you read similar stories’ comments, you’d find there are several who would agree with me.

Chief Evangelous, I agree with you that the police are only a small part of the issue, but it’s a small part that can make a huge difference! A developing fight is not as easily spotted by a passing patrol car as well as it is by an officer out on the street, in the action. I believe there are plenty of officers downtown, just spread them out!

2015 years 10 months ago

when is everyone going to get that the bars arent just the problem. its the people who hangout downtown now. the only real problem with bars is that you have all these under 21 places dt now. if you stop having “dance clubs, bars and hangouts” and just have nice resturants or nice bars. this wouldnt be a problem. yes there would be some incidents like there would be any place in the world. but elimate the places for kids and thugs and punks to hangout. quess what…they wont hangout!!! then all the decent people will come back and the crap will leave.

Concerned Downtown Resident
2015 years 10 months ago

“. . . others say city leaders should step up and come up with solutions.”

City leaders will do *nothing* to curb downtown’s alcohol-fueled violence.

City leaders allowed—even encouraged—the shotgun proliferation of downtown bars, and now the city is reaping the terrible consequences.

Since the high density of bars is the problem, let the bars hire their own armed security guards. Tax payers should not be saddled with the expense of “adding more policemen” to patrol the out-of-control downtown drunks.

And . . . it’s not just the VIOLENCE, it’s the puking on the streets, the vandalism, the noise, the drunk drivers leaving the bars to kill themselves and others on our streets and highways, and . . . and did I mention the noise?

Time for WWAY to take on the politics of Downtown Wilmington–the politics that allow bar owners and patrons to get away with just about anything.

Keep up the fine reporting, WWAY. Responsible media need to expose the downtown scene in all its late-night, alcoholic squalor.

I have to see it with my own eyes every weekend.

2015 years 10 months ago

This phrase nails it!

Drunk drivers? I have seen with my own eyes drunks getting into their cars behind their wheels and driving off into the dark.

Time for Wilmington police to set up more late night SOBRIETY CHECKS.


More DWIs will curb the number of driving-while-impaired drunks who leave the downtown area by the dozens every weekend night.

2015 years 10 months ago

You said it, Concerned Downtown Resident! I too am a resident of downtown, and I am sick and tired of the escalation of noise, litter, and hooliganism!

Unruly Bars are a scourge on our community!

2015 years 10 months ago

No more downtown for me and my family. I’m too scared to be victimized. It’s so sad, it has so much potential but no one’s stepping up to the plate to fix these issues. It’s only a matter of time before all decent folks stop going downtown too, this violence is too much. How sad.


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