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Downtown District to address active shooters, emergency procedures

Oxford Police Department Chief Joey East presented a proposed ordinance for the establishment of a Downtown District at the board of aldermen meeting last Monday.

OPD has been constantly evaluating ways to make the Square safer, according to East, and the first line of defense is security personnel. The ordinance, if approved, will require security personnel at all bars in the Downtown District to follow strict guidelines in the interest of public safety.

“There’s four businesses that hold well over anywhere from 800 to 1000 people apiece, so you’ve got to take precautionary measures to make sure those people are safe while they’re visiting,” East said. “We’re just trying to have the businesses share responsibility with us.”

The new ordinance will require security guards to be “distinctively and uniformly attired,” wearing bold-colored shirts that clearly say “security” on the front.

Given recent events, such as the shooting at the Lyric Oxford in April, the ordinance states that businesses will need to formulate emergency preparedness plans. In the event of an emergency situation, such as a fire, assault or active shooter, security guards will act as leaders to get patrons to safety, East said.

“Those people have to be the leaders. If something happens, [employees and security guards] need to know how to get folks out,” he said. “They need to know if something’s happening at the front door, how to get them out the back. They just need to understand the evacuation plan. It ought to be written, they ought to be well-versed in it and it ought to be displayed so people can see it.”

Business owners aren’t going to be left to their own devices when it comes to creating these plans, however. East said OPD is planning on hosting classes with its downtown unit and members of the Oxford Fire Department, which will create a dialogue between the business owners and the officers.

East also added that many businesses already have emergency preparedness plans. The new ordinance, if adopted, will require all businesses to display their emergency evacuation plans and will require all employees to be well-versed in the procedure.

“When police officers are up there, they all wear these bright yellow vests so everybody knows who they are,” East said. “The security personnel is going to have to take the same mind frame; know how to get these people out, know that it’s going to be chaos, stand in the right place and help them get out.”

Above all, East said he hopes the Square will never be faced with an emergency situation, but if something does happen, people will know what to do.

The Downtown District ordinance will go before the board of aldermen at the June 19 meeting for a second reading and public hearing.

For more information, visit http://oxfordms.net/board-of-aldermen.