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Court Center Businesses Taking Action on Added Security

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DES MOINES, Iowa - A shooting Sunday leaving one man dead and another injured in the hospital has some Court Avenue businesses taking action to increase security.

Matt Funk, the building manager for Court Center, which houses Legends Bar & Grill, Joker's Club, Heroes, Beer Can Alley, The Exchange, and Carbon Nightclub, says the center will be employing two off-duty police officers as an added security measure during "peak hours" on weekends. Beginning this Thursday, the two off-duty officers will patrol Third Street and Court Avenue from 11:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. through Saturday night. This security will remain at least into January 1 of 2016, but may remain longer, depending on what action the city formally takes to improve security.

"This is in response to the incidents over the weekend," said Court Center building manager, Matt Funk. "We are wanting to maintain the public's sense of safety over the Court Avenue area, until the city of Des Moines can come up with a solution."

Whether the city of Des Moines will come up with a solution - and when - remains to be seen. In an interview Monday with city councilwoman Christine Hensley, who represents the Court Avenue district, the official expressed a desire to see Court Avenue businesses pitch in on security efforts.

"It is extremely important that Court Avenue is viewed as being safe," she said. "And anytime you have something like this, it raises concern in the minds of people, and that's why I believe, as elected officials, as all of the constituents and stakeholders, need to be very proactive, we need to be personally talking. I'd like to see us be as aggressive as possible. The businesses are going to have to step up - they play a major role. They're part of the issue, and they're going to have to cover some of the costs of this - it can't be just on the shoulders of government to do that."

Operation Downtown - a group providing downtown services like graffiti removal, trash pickup, and landscaping - has paid for additional security in the Court Avenue district during the summer months since 2011. The group collects funds for these type of services through a special tax on downtown property owners, and some Court Center business leaders say they feel that tax should be enough to fund full-time security in the district year-round. Establishments in Court Center like Joker's Club and Beer Can Alley pay out-of-pocket for their own security guards, in addition.

But councilwoman Hensley says she also feels the need for added security measures like more cameras and lighting - a sentiment echoed by Funk.

"Things we're talking about right now would be additional lighting; we have gone through and done an audit for lighting. Also cameras - I know in talking with Chief Wingert, he's looking at, you know, what would it cost to add significant number of additional cameras down there," she said. "And then the key is they'd have to be monitored, or there would be specific times where we would monitor those."

But some bar owners, who spoke on anonymity, say they have colleagues in other cities where security in high-traffic areas on weekends is funded and organized by the city - not by the business owners. Funk says, collectively, Court Center business owners are hoping to see action taken by the city.

"We are hoping to see more police presence," he said. "This area has a lot of traffic - this is a high traffic area. It does need police presence here. This area cannot be avoided."