City weighing options for dealing with rowdiness, violence at bars

Cameras, ban lists among possibilities

The city has significant ammunition to battle growing concerns about violence and crime surrounding the city’s nightlife scene, according to a new City Hall report released Friday.

The city has the legal authority to create licensing requirements for nightclubs, and the police could begin using more closed-circuit television cameras to monitor activities around bars and nightclubs, according to the report that city commissioners are scheduled to review at their Tuesday meeting.

“It is good to know that we have some options,” Mayor Mike Amyx said. “We want everybody to feel safe and secure in any area of town. We definitely have seen some things happen that have concerned everybody.”

In mid-May, seven shots were fired inside the Last Call, 729 N.H., sending 200 people fleeing into the street, though no one was injured. In February, two men were shot – one fatally – outside the Granada, 1020 Mass., following a concert at the nightclub. And throughout the year, police have been finding numerous guns in vehicles parked near downtown nightclubs.

Some nightclub owners on Friday said they were willing to listen to the city’s ideas, even though they may increase regulation and cost.

“I don’t have a problem with what I’ve heard,” said Dennis Steffes, owner of Last Call. “I think a lot of it is already being done. But we have to listen.

“The bottom line is that with the things that have started to happen in this town, we only have two choices: We let them win or we show them who is running these places. Make no mistake about it, I intend to be the person running this place, not the criminal element or the hooligans.”

Four examples

The report, prepared by staff attorney Scott Miller, spelled out four major options that other communities have used to deal with similar issues. They are:

¢ Creation of an entertainment club license. All nightclubs that serve liquor already must be licensed by the state. But cities have the ability to make entertainment establishments obtain an additional license.

Olathe has a system that requires entertainment clubs – whether they serve alcohol or not – to have a city license if they have an occupancy rating of more than 350 people. The ordinance exempts full-service restaurants, movie theaters and several other establishments. It mainly defines an entertainment club as a business that hosts bands or disc jockeys or has a dancing area.

Miller said the new licensing provision could be useful because the city has no legal authority to revoke a bar’s state-issued liquor license. Only the state can do that, although the city can request that the state do so.

The city could revoke an entertainment license if a business were found to be a place of frequent criminal activity or if the business did not meet certain security requirements.

¢ A city-run program to license and train nightclub bouncers, doormen and other security personnel. The program would require training on how to handle numerous situations. Generally, nightclubs would pay a fee to the city for the training and licenses.

¢ Closed-circuit television cameras in city parking lots and on street lamps and other public property. The cameras would allow police headquarters to view real-time video of activity outside bars and along downtown streets.

¢ A “bar-watch” program similar to neighborhood watch programs where bars and nightclubs band together and share information about problem patrons. Most bar-watch programs – which have been used in Canada and Great Britain – have rules that ban any patron who has been thrown out of one bar from entering other bars in the program. The city couldn’t force participation in a bar-watch program; bars and nightclubs would decide whether they wanted to join.

More opinions

LaTonia Coleman, the widow of the man shot and killed outside the Granada, said she was pleased that the city was looking at options. But she said she was disappointed that the report seemed to be coming on the heels of the shots being fired at Last Call.

“It is definitely inspiring for me to hear that they’re looking at this,” Coleman said. “It is just bad that it had to take another incident. It is just by the grace of God that no one got hurt.”

Jerry Neverve, owner of the Red Lyon Tavern, 944 Mass., said he was open to the city creating regulations, but he’s not sure they would change much.

“I think when things happen, bars and clubs are reacting,” Neverve said. “This is their livelihood. No one wants to have something happen that is going to cause that to be taken away.”

Steffes said he hoped that the city would recognize differences between large clubs like his and smaller bars that can hold only a few dozen people at a time. He said he doubted smaller bars would be able to afford what his club has done to improve security.

Following the gunshots, Steffes installed a metal detector at a cost of about $5,000. On Saturday nights he also employs three teams of security personnel – an inside crew, an undercover crew and an outside team of licensed security professionals who are armed. He also has increased the number of video cameras that monitor activity inside and outside the club.

“The message we’re sending people now is basically, ‘Just give us a reason to throw you out,'” Steffes said.

City commissioners on Friday did not discuss what size establishments any new regulations might cover, but Amyx said he thought any new requirements should be citywide, not just for the downtown.