The local merchants’ association on Monday asked the City Council to close the historic Newport Pier at night to ensure public safety and help clean up the area.
“We must do something now,” said Rush Hill, president of the Newport Pier Assn., which has about 50 members. “We recognize that this is an extremely complex issue. We are doing nothing less than addressing society’s ills at the end of the pier.”
The city has been debating whether to close the pier at night after an alleged gang member opened fire there Sept. 19, wounding three people.
The council, which discussed the issue during its afternoon session, took no vote but expressed a willingness to explore increasing police patrols, installing brighter lights or closing the pier from midnight to 5 a.m. daily.
“We can’t let this kind of thing go on,” said Councilwoman Jean H. Watt, in voicing support for a pier curfew.
The discussion ended without a consensus. Instead, the council asked the city staff to analyze an array of possible solutions for consideration next month.
Many Newport residents and businesses became alarmed this summer after two separate gang-related shootings took place on the pier after dark. That violence prompted city officials to begin searching for solutions to what some described as a growing problem.
Some residents and business people also have begun calling for efforts to clean the pier of litter and debris left behind by fishermen and tourists.
The pier has for many years attracted people on late-night strolls and a cadre of fishermen. For that reason city officials, who decided last spring to close the beaches at night, resisted closing the pier as well.
Police Chief Robert J. McDonell said that despite the shootings, the pier is not a high-crime area.
McDonell said that more officers have been deployed at the pier in the past two weeks to “reassure the public that it is safe.” But he added that crime statistics from the first six months of 1993 do not show a crime problem on the pier.
According to the Police Department, there were only three reported crimes, one arrest and 49 citations made on the pier between Jan. 1 and July 1 of this year. By contrast, in the city-owned parking lots at the foot of the pier, there have been 221 crimes reported, 143 arrests made and 893 citations issued.
“From the perspective of law enforcement, the numbers don’t warrant” closing the pier at night, McDonell said. “The real problem is in the parking lot.”