Police Chief wants Newtown businesses to close earlier

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Posted: Monday, July 21, 2014 11:30 am

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A battle is brewing in Newtown over a possible business curfew.

The police chief of Sarasota plans to ask the city commission for support Monday night, but it's not going over well by some Newtown business owners.

Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino says her officers are responding to dozens of late night calls in a certain stretch of Newtown, on Martin Luther King Way, between U.S. 301 and Osprey Avenue.

So she plans to ask commissioners to rezone Newtown's business district. which would force certain businesses to close early.

Right now some places stay open past midnight, to 2 or 4am. And while DiPino says that's when the trouble happens, some business owners say that's when they make the most money. And one business owner reportedly said to reduce their hours would be un-Constitutional and un-American.

Convenience store owner Bashar Itraish runs one of the locations that would be affected. "I dont think it’s right for the city to punish a business owner like myself who has been here for 16 years."

The Sarasota Police Department cites the chronic threat of incidents as their rationale for the earlier closures.

So far this year there have been 165 calls for service in that area between midnight and 5 am. 77 of those were vehicle stops, and 33 of them are for noise disturbances.

But Bashar says they are not the culprit. "I know it’s not from here. We know where it’s coming from, and that’s my issue right there."

And business owners aren't the only ones in opposition. "Why this area? Why not on Siesta Key, downtown, where other clubs are open until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning? And they have just as much police cars as they have out here. I feel like they are just targeting the black community because they can get away with it," says Alfred Hamilton.

"You telling me traffic stops and noise is why you're trying to close the boulevard? That’s insane," says Newtown resident Danny Preston.

Many Newtown residents say the effort not only unfairly targets their community, but also threatens the limited entertainment option they currently have in the area. "I think it’s a travesty. For one, it’s un-Constitutional; if you're not going to change an ordinance for all of Sarasota, then you can’t change it for a certain part of the City of Sarasota," says Preston.

But not everyone agrees. "If you were to travel to Manatee County, you don't see the same congregating; you don't see the same type of activities taking place within their business district," says Sarasota Mayor Willie Shaw.

Sarasota Police have released videos that were presented to the city commission on Monday night.  One video show a person walking through the area waving a gun around, and another shows an example of the large crowds that congregate late at night.

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