Unfortunately for the city of Naperville, perception is sometimes reality. So after four violent crimes in the city's prized downtown area last year, the perception grew that it might not be safe to be in downtown Naperville later at night.
Mayor George Pradel, who also serves as the liquor commissioner, understands the dilemma.
"There is a perception that it's not safe to come downtown after 10 p.m.," Pradel told the Daily Herald's Justin Kmitch. "Our police are doing their part, and we've told the business community they are also responsible to make that perception go away."
It is encouraging to see the effect of a revamped downtown liquor enforcement plan conceived by the police department last year in response to the crimes. Last week Naperville police Chief Robert Marshall called the plan a success after its first five months.
Beginning in September through mid-January, four additional officers were moved downtown between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with a focus on disorderly conduct issues, public intoxication and urination, and underage drinking.
"Last year we had a tragic murder, an armed robbery and two very violent beatings that sent all participants to the hospital," Marshall said. "As far as violent crimes go, that is a very low number, but our goal is zero. And in five months since we've enacted our plan, that's exactly what we have."
Naperville's vibrant downtown is the gold standard in the suburbs, attracting crowds of people to well-known business establishments and the riverwalk that stretches along the DuPage River. So when that jewel's glimmer is not as bright, it is incumbent on the city and the businesses to work together to rectify the situation.
We, like Pradel, are happy to see businesses like BlackFinn American Salon, which lost its late-night liquor license for a few days in November, learn from its mistakes. An owner recently demonstrated a new electronic ID scanner BlackFinn uses.
But the city's program can't possibly be called an unwavering success until the spring and summer months, when the warmer weather brings more and more people downtown. Marshall recognizes this, saying his staff is looking ahead to St. Patrick's Day and beyond and will outline a summer enforcement plan later this year.
Will it work? With added emphasis from police and cooperation from the business owners, it should. The first step is admitting the perception actually exists. It's disappointing to hear one bar owner call it a "nonissue" exaggerated by the media.
Given that one person is dead and others were injured in the downtown last year, we think that's an issue and one that all need to take seriously. We're pleased most do.