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Security Is An Ever-Evolving Challenge In The Oregon District

The Dayton Strong mural outside of Ned Peppers in the Oregon District
Chris Welter
The Dayton Strong mural outside of Ned Peppers in the Oregon District

For business owners in the Oregon District, a year after the mass shooting, keeping people safe is an ever-evolving challenge. WYSO’s Chris Welter spoke with Emily Mendenhall, the co-owner of Lily’s Bistro and the Vice President of the Oregon District Business Association (ODBA) about some of the challenges.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Chris Welter: What are the security concerns in the Oregon District?

Emily Mendenhall: This question four months ago probably would have had a very different response, because now the security is sanitizing these menus after every use, and sanitizing the doors, and maintaining only one bathroom the guests use so we can make sure it's kept really clean. All these businesses, we are here and we're just hanging on by a thread right now. So the safety of our patrons and safety of our employees is at the forefront of our minds constantly. People coming in and having a blatant disregard for that is a no tolerance thing right now. Sometimes it's like, you know what? We're talking about the health and safety of ourselves and our other patrons. This isn't the time to have a debate or an argument. These are the rules. These are the laws.

One piece that the ODBA has worked on for quite a while was advocating for the police presence in Oregon district and to have community officers designated to this area who understand the community, who know the businesses, know the layout, and things like that. In the response to the shootings it's very beneficial to have officers know this community who knew exactly where they were needed to go when things started to happen.

Chris: I imagine the police issue could be difficult because, on the one hand, the police neutralized the shooter last August but there is also distrust of the police from some folks in the Dayton community. How do you balance keeping patrons safe while also making sure they feel comfortable with the amount of law enforcement present in the district?

Emily: We are so grateful and we are so fortunate with the response that the officers had on August 4th last year. They should receive accolades for doing their job really well. Absolutely. But I don't think that that is a separate thing from asking to look at systemic forms of racial bias in policing. I think we can support and say ‘job well done’ when a job is well done and also say there are problems that need to be addressed and that we can have both of those feelings at the same time.

A lot of times we would call in non-emergency phone calls to 333-COPS, which is the Dayton non-emergency number. Lots of times that would be a conversation then where an officer would come and it could be an aggressive panhandler. It could be someone being a danger to themselves or others, someone in the street behaving erratically, things like that. With everything going on right now, there's more of a conversation of is that the crime prevention that officers should be doing or is that the work of mental health care facilities and social workers?

When we see things that maybe don't warrant police attention, we try to not be so quick to call for that. That might not be the best use of their time and it also may not be the best outcome for the person who might just be having a rough go of it. And maybe we can have a quick conversation, "Hey, can I call you an Uber"? Is there someone I can get you in touch with to help you"? We're hearing and understanding that a police presence for some people makes them feel safe and for other people makes them feel less safe.

Chris: I know Lily’s had a window smashed during the protests in June, despite the fact that you were outside handing out water to protestors — what was that experience like?

Emily: There seemed to be something that had just happened. We learned more in the days and weeks that followed. An altercation took place downtown when the protests were kind of dispersing. I think people were riled up and a rock got thrown through the window, and it was pretty devastating. It had been a long weekend and a hard weekend. We had to make the decision to close down the day before due to some altercations in the area between some white supremacists with guns - with guns in this area. It's like, oh my gosh, seriously in this community? It's the last thing that we need right now. By the time I woke up in the morning, protesters and Black Lives Matter supporters and advocates for racial justice had donated enough money to pay to fix that window. A couple of the new planters that we had planted had been ripped up, community members had replanted them that night.

I had some very strongly worded phone calls, emails and voicemails disagreeing with my stance that a broken window is a broken window, a broken windpipe resulting in someone's death is a tragedy that needs to be looked at on a separate scale.

Environmental reporter Chris Welter is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Chris Welter is the Managing Editor at The Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Chris got his start in radio in 2017 when he completed a six-month training at the Center for Community Voices. Most recently, he worked as a substitute host and the Environment Reporter at WYSO.