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Editorial: Officials' public nuisance ordinance much needed

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There are many advantages to living next door to Indianapolis, but one of the disadvantages is that the big city’s problems sometimes migrate south.

For example, large parties where gang members gather were frequent in Indy until city officials and police starting cracking down on them. Now those headaches are afflicting neighboring counties.

But Johnson County is taking a pre-emptive approach to clamp down on this activity before it becomes an even more serious problem.

The county wants to adopt new rules aimed at shutting down large parties after multiple shots were fired during an event at a Center Grove area golf course this month.

Sheriff Doug Cox and county attorney Kathleen Hash are working on a public nuisance ordinance, which would allow the sheriff to stop large parties that could pose a safety hazard to people attending and surrounding homes and businesses. The sheriff said he wanted the county to have local rules after at least 15 shots were fired at a large party at Walnut Ridge Golf Course. One person was injured, and bullets hit a window at the golf course and two vehicles.

“It’s unacceptable for us to tolerate that behavior in Johnson County,” he said.

The events Cox is targeting often are advertised as under-21 dance parties but can attract gangs and other illegal activity, such as drugs and alcohol, Cox said.

The county plans to model the new rules on an ordinance in place in Indianapolis, which requires event organizers to get a permit. But Hash told commissioners she intends to broaden the language to cover more events outside under-21 events or those advertised as dance parties.

Cox plans to continue to approach venue owners in the county if he receives information that a party could be a safety concern and ask them to cancel the event. If they chose not to, Cox said, he would then be able to use the county ordinance to shut down the event and possibly issue citations.

The county ordinance would be used to stop parties if police have information showing the party could impact safety, and it wouldn’t target parties at homes or venues without reason, he said.

“If they want to come down and have a legitimate, honest-to-goodness party, that’s one thing. But to have something like this where we know bad things are going to occur, that’s where my whole problem with this thing is,” Cox said.

The Indianapolis rule prevents venues from hosting a dance or music event unless they get a permit first, which requires venues to meet safety guidelines and helps to stop locations from hosting a one-night event, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Detective Sgt. William Carter said.

Police can get a court order to temporarily stop the party while city and state inspectors go in and check for violations, such as the fire code, Carter said. Police usually serve the court order the day of the party, which means the event can’t happen that night.

Cox said he expects the county’s rules would be similar to those in Indianapolis, allowing him to get a court order to shut down a party that is expected to cause problems.

Parties in Indianapolis have slowed down over the past two years after one major event organizer was banned from hosting in the city. But efforts to stop the parties in Indianapolis have led organizers to move the events to communities outside the city, such as Fishers and Noblesville and now Johnson County.

Uncontrolled parties like those we’ve seen can pose a threat to public safety. So giving law enforcement agencies a tool to shut down such potentially dangerous gatherings is a wise move.

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