By Bob Vitale and Paige Johnson
You won’t be the only one making rounds at the bars this weekend.
Columbus Police have been popping in at gay bars throughout the city this week, introducing themselves to owners and offering their help in shoring up security in the wake of last weekend’s mass murder at an LGBT club in Orlando. And Ohio Department of Public Safety officials have been contacting LGBT bar owners and Pride organizers across the state to remind them
Some bars say they’re hiring extra people – either private security or uniformed, off-duty police – in order to ensure people’s safety and calm any fears of patrons since the Orlando shootings.
“The bars are our safe haven,” said Jeff O’Connor, owner of O’Connor’s Club 20 near the Ohio State University campus. He’s hiring two uniformed police officers this weekend.
“We want to make sure people coming in or coming out [for Columbus Pride] are safe.”
Sam Schisler, the marketing director for Axis and Union Café, said the two Short North bars regularly hire private security and off-duty police and will do so again this weekend for Pride parties and events.
Columbus Police were out on N. High Street already this afternoon.
Schisler said the message from Police Chief Kim Jacobs – “if you see something, say something” – also is the message Axis and Union are sharing with their customers.
“It’s not just today and tomorrow, it’s every day,” he said.
Matt Mefford, the owner of Cavan Irish Pub on the South Side and AWOL in Olde Towne East, said via Facebook this week that he spoke with Columbus Police and welcomes their increased presence in and around the bars “not only during Pride week, but in the weeks to come.”
“The officers we met were very supportive and kind. I know that it is in their hearts to take care of their own Columbus community,” he wrote.
Mefford said he spoke with his staff as well at the bars to gauge their feelings about the violence that took place in an LGBT nightclub in Orlando.
“I have never been so proud to see all of the staff at Cavan and AWOL unified in their decision to not back down, keep the bars open, and to continue to represent a safe haven and a place of gathering for friends and family.”
The two officers who visited O’Connor’s Club 20 told O’Connor that calls from the bar would be a priority for police. They walked through the entire building with the owner and suggested which doors he should lock and how he could enhance security throughout the bar.
“The Columbus Police – I swear, this gives me the chills – have been so good,” he said.
Club 20’s regular bartender told O’Connor she couldn’t believe how helpful and concerned law enforcement was being with the LGBT bars.
O’Connor said he thought back to a time when police and LGBT establishments didn’t exactly get along.
“You can’t believe it?” he replied. “You should have been out in the ’80s.”