Crime & Safety

Security checkpoints, more police and K-9s in downtown Orlando after shooting last weekend

Winslow Celestin lives near the downtown Orlando Wall Street Plaza where a mix of restaurants, bars and nightclubs are closely packed together attracting thousands of partygoers each weekend.

The plaza, usually a place of fun, turned chaotic last weekend when a gunman opened fire, injuring seven people. In response, the City of Orlando installed new security protocols.

Police officers and security guards wearing bright yellow reflective safety vests spread across downtown Orlando Friday night to ensure the safety of visitors, party goers and nightlife employees.

Celestin said up until now he hasn’t felt safe, but the added security was enough for him to venture out.

“Honestly I haven’t been coming out,” he said. “Friends of mine told me [the city] is doing the whole new barricade type of system and I wanted to just see how it looks…I’ve never seen this much security out here, which is making more jobs and that’s great too. The biggest thing at the end of the day is making the livelihood for people better.”

Barricades closed off Orange Avenue, between Pine Street and Washington Street. Specially-trained dogs that detect the presence of hidden firearms were parading the multi-block stretch. And six pedestrian controlled access points on Washington Street, Central Boulevard and Pine Street were set up with security guards heavily monitoring people who stroll by.

The checkpoint system was enacted by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer as a direct response to last Sunday’s shooting that took place near Wall Street Plaza and Orange Avenue just after 2 a.m., when bars and clubs in the area were closing. The shooter remains at large.

“After last week’s events we decided to extend the controlled access point program to Fridays and Saturdays,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet with bar and club owners and they are extremely supportive and recognize it’s not good for anyone to have downtown viewed as unsafe.”

Ashley Papagni, a city spokesperson, said the city intends to additionally screen those heading to the downtown bars by adding metal detectors at checkpoints after a six-to-eight week bidding process.

For Celestin, the added security was a reminder of the mass shootings that have occurred in Orlando and across the nation.

“For a lot of people, what happened in Pulse is still fresh,” Celestin said. “I’ve lived in Orlando my whole life and in the past three years a whole lot more of shootings have been happening.”

Dyer said the checkpoints will only seize firearms from those carrying them illegally and barricades will be removed in the case of an emergency evacuation.

“Right now we’re in a country that’s become numb to mass shootings,” Dyer said. “Pulse seems so long ago, yet it feels like it was at the forefront of a wave of gun violence occurring in our country.”

There have been several reports of violence in and around Orlando’s downtown bar district over the past couple of years.

In May, OPD responded to a shooting in the 300 block of West Church Street and Liberty Avenue intersection, where officers found a 24-year-old man suffering from a gunshot wound.

Last Halloween, several people were injured in a pair of shootings in downtown Orlando. One of the shootings, which injured four people, happened near North Orange Avenue and Wall Street. The other shooting, near Lake Eola, injured three people.

In May 2021, Joseph Torres, a 34-year-old military veteran was shot multiple times and killed after a fight about him walking through a downtown Orlando crowd.

The violence has impacted how some venues do business.

Diana Portillo, the theater operations manager who works the night shows at SAK Comedy Lab, said show times were moved to 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weekends so staff can leave before 10 p.m.

“When the venue closes, everyone walks together to the parking garage,” she said. “We’re usually out of here by 10:30 before it gets very busy. None of us ever walk by ourselves.”

Portillo has been working at the theater for seven years. It’s located within the barricades, near the corner of South Orange Avenue and East Pine Street.

“I love being downtown, love the energy. It’s a neat place to be, but I will not be here after 11 p.m.,” she said. “I just feel like it’s gotten worse as far as shootings and killings in this past two to three years.”

She recalled a time when she saw blood in a parking garage elevator because a woman was stabbed.

“Personally I don’t see what difference [security checkpoints] will make,” Portillo said. “If the person has a permit to carry a gun or not, if there’s a fight, there’s still going to be a shooting.”

Orlando’s city officials said they have plans to rein in its nightlife and curb violence, including adding security in private parking lots, new permits for businesses that stay open after midnight and grants to help pay for the installation of real time security cameras.

“There’s so many wonderful things about downtown…I wish people saw that side and not all these shootings,” Portillo said.

Jordan Collins

Jordan is an experienced editor with years in the journalism and reporting industry. He loves talking with the community about the problems local residents face and state politics. You can find him in the gym almost every day or see him jogging.

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