Police calls to bars draw official scrutiny
Owners say numbers don’t tell whole story
The number of police calls at a handful of Lawrence drinking establishments in a recent 15-month period has drawn the city’s attention.
Lawrence police and city attorneys have met with or plan to have conversations with owners of the five establishments with the highest number of calls — Abe and Jake’s Landing at 163; The Oread, which includes The Cave nightclub, 122; Tonic, 99; The Hawk, 93; and Cadillac Ranch, 91 — from January 2011 to April 1 this year.
“It’s a serious issue. It’s serious for the patrons, serious for the employees and serious for the police officers that are called to respond to those situations,” City Manager David Corliss said. “We want to monitor it and respond accordingly. What comes of those meetings is the owner and operators indicate they have received the message and they’re going to work to try and respond. I’ve been pleased with the meetings and contacts to date. We’re going to continue to monitor it.”
Abe and Jake’s owner Mike Elwell said Wednesday in the last six weeks he changed the venue, 8 E. Sixth St., to host only private events. For about two years, it had been open on Thursday nights to anyone 18 and older with a Kansas University ID. Elwell said a majority of the police calls were for alcohol violations on the property, and he said a significant number of the problems occurred in the parking lot, including at least one large disturbance, adjacent to the property.
“There wasn’t any demand that we stop doing Thursday night or anything like that,” he said. “You could sense that we couldn’t monitor that parking lot.”
Owners and managers of some establishments say they welcome the conversations to try to reduce the numbers, but they also contend the overall numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“To me, they need to carefully weigh what these calls are to have a good understanding of why the calls were made,” said Nancy Longhurst, general manager of The Oread, a hotel and development at 1200 Oread Ave. that includes The Cave, a nightclub on the lower levels. “The reflection in that report is about bars and knowing that 70 percent come from the hotel is not a correct assessment of where the calls originated.”
Longhurst said the total number of calls on the list for The Oread were skewed because it included everything that occurred on the hotel property, including medical responses, like for a woman who fainted in her room after a long flight or for an infant who had trouble breathing in a restaurant on the property.
The city released a list of the total number of calls for services to addresses at establishments with liquor licenses in Lawrence after city attorneys announced last week they were asking city commissioners to seek a suspension or revocation of the Taste Lounge, Bar and Grill, 804 W. 24th St., after three firearm-related incidents since October, including the March 17 shooting of a bouncer. A hearing on Taste is scheduled as part of Tuesday’s city commission meeting.
Chad Sublet, an assistant city attorney, said Taste had the sixth highest number of calls on the list.
But he said city staff members believed they needed to seek a revocation of Taste’s liquor license based on the three firearm incidents — a suspect has been arrested and charged in each case — and other reported incidents of violence at Taste that were more severe than the five other bars or clubs that had higher overall numbers.
The city contacted and met twice with owners and operators of Abe and Jake’s Landing, 8 E. Sixth St. They also met with Jonathan Davis, the registered owner of Tonic, Cadillac Ranch and The Hawk.
A manager at The Hawk said he was aware ownership of the bar had met with the city but that he was not authorized to comment. Messages left for Davis were not returned.
Police calls to Lawrence establishments from Jan. 1, 2011, to April 1
Six highest on the list:
• Abe and Jake’s Landing, 8 E. Sixth St., 163 total; 1 alarm, 42 alcohol complaints, 29 bar checks, 2 bar closings, 26 battery calls, 12 building checks, 2 burglaries, 1 welfare check, 6 disturbances, 1 disturbance with weapons, 1 domestic incident, 1 found property call, 5 medical emergencies, 1 narcotics call, 3 noise complaints, 1 parking complaint, 5 pedestrian checks, 14 requests to speak with an officer, 2 thefts, 5 for trespassing, 3 public urination calls.
• The Oread*, 1200 Oread Ave., 122 total; 8 911 hang ups, 1 alarm, 2 attempt to locate calls, 12 bar checks, 18 battery calls, 2 building checks, 5 welfare checks, 1 civil standby, 3 criminal damage calls, 5 disturbances, 3 domestic incidents, 1 fire call, 3 forgery calls, 17 medical calls, 1 missing child call, 1 noise complaint, 1 pedestrian check, 1 parking violation, 2 private tows, 20 requests to speak with an officer, 1 shooting, 1 suicide attempt, 2 theft calls, 1 threat, 10 trespassing calls.
• Tonic, 728 Mass., 99; 6 alcohol complaints, 12 bar checks, 19 battery calls, 1 criminal damage, 4 welfare checks, 1 criminal damage, 13 disturbances, 2 domestic incidents, 1 found property call, 2 medical calls, 6 noise complaints, 2 pedestrian checks, 23 requests to speak with an officer, 3 thefts, 1 threat, 3 trespassing calls.
• The Hawk, 1340 Ohio, 93; 21 alcohol complaints, 18 bar checks, 10 battery calls, 2 building checks, 1 welfare check, 2 criminal damage calls, 5 disturbances, 1 disturbance with weapons, 6 medical calls, 3 noise complaints, 1 parking violation, 2 pedestrian checks, 11 requests to speak with an officer, 1 sex crime complaint, 7 thefts and 2 trespassing calls.
• Cadillac Ranch, 2515 W. Sixth St., 91; 6 alcohol complaints, 12 bar checks, 15 battery calls, 2 burglaries, 4 welfare checks, 2 criminal damage calls, 9 disturbances, 1 narcotics call, 2 parking violations, 6 pedestrian checks, 1 private tow, 15 requests to speak with an officer, 4 thefts, 11 trespassing calls, 1 public urination call.
• Taste Lounge, Bar and Grill, 804 W. 24th St., 75 total; 1 alcohol complaint, 2 animal calls, 15 bar checks, 5 battery calls, 16 building checks, 1 criminal damage call, 1 welfare check, 1 civil process service, 6 disturbances, 1 disturbance with weapons, 1 domestic disturbance, 2 narcotics complaints, 5 parking violations, 9 requests to speak with an officer, 2 sex crime complaints, 1 shooting, 2 thefts, 1 threat, 2 trespassing calls, 1 public urination call.
- The Oread address includes both the hotel and development at the address, including The Cave nightclub.
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said even though many calls were not criminal in nature, such as alarms and bar checks, he was concerned about the number of batteries, disturbances and alcohol violations at the bars at the top of the list.
“I think it’s a very appropriate and responsible action on the city to identify these businesses that have recurring issues and see if the businesses will voluntarily work with the city to try and resolve and reduce the number of criminal incidents associated with their business,” Branson said.
Elwell said most of the problems at Abe and Jake’s during that 15-month period occurred on Thursday nights when it was open to the public to anyone 18 and older with a Kansas University ID. He said the club didn’t have major problems inside, but the list included 42 alcohol complaints at Abe and Jake’s, and Elwell said those likely involved a patron younger than 21 grabbing a drink once they were inside and received a citation by a police or Alcoholic Beverage Control officer.
He also said many of the calls likely occurred in the parking lot outside, and bar staff members didn’t have authority to ask people to leave.
“I don’t know if every incident could be attributed to people at Abe and Jake’s,” Elwell said.
After having conversations with the city about the parking lot and other issues, he decided six weeks ago to only be open for private events, which has reduced the number of calls there.
“It’s a very small group that causes major issues,” Elwell said. “In our situation, the problem’s solved. For other places, one closes, somebody else will inherit that crowd, and they will deal with the same issues.”
Longhurst said if city officials are going to compare the number of calls at drinking establishments, the needs to figure out a way to distinguish the number of calls between The Oread and The Cave, which share an address. She said after reviewing the list of calls the city provided, it appeared only about 35 occurred at The Cave and the rest involved at the hotel.
“Our No. 1 concern is the safety of our guests,” Longhurst said. “We are realistic, and we know that things do happen. But even one incident in our mind is too many. Our Cave managers always try to do the best job they can working in a nightclub environment, and our guests in The Cave are our No. 1 concern as they are in the entire hotel.”
She said The Cave staff members “have done a great job” with safety measures. They use security cameras and checkpoints. They also work to confiscate fake IDs and work with the ABC to try to prevent underage drinking and attend voluntary training sessions offered by law enforcement and state officials.
Chad Sublet, an assistant city attorney, said police supervisors are working to figure out a way to distinguish in the future which calls originate at the hotel and at The Cave.
Longhurst said the city should also likely consider the size of establishments when comparing the number of calls. The Cave has a capacity of 600 people, making it one of the largest venues of its kind in the city.
Branson said the numbers show him that several establishments are having success in keeping their number of calls down. According to the city, the average number of calls during that 15-month period among the 120 establishments was 19.8.
“There’s a lot of good establishments on here that are being managed in a way that they are not creating a bad neighbor situation for them in the community,” he said.
Rick Renfro, an owner of Johnny’s Tavern in North Lawrence, 401 N. Second St., and Johnny’s West, 721 Wakarusa Drive, said the type of clientele can determine what types of issues a bar has. He said bars that attract younger people who haven’t had much experience on how to act when drinking alcohol seem to cause the most problems, so owners and managers need to be vigilant. There were 18 calls at Johnny’s in North Lawrence and 11 in west Lawrence. Both were below average.
“It’s a daily thing that anything can happen at any time when you’re dealing with alcohol,” Renfro said. “You just have to be on top of it.”
Corliss said the city wanted its analysis to be data driven as they meet with bar owners and operators. He also said city officials generally were pleased with conversations they have had with owners so far and that they hoped it could increase safety and reduce the number of calls there in the future.
“Safety is not just the government’s responsibility, and not just the bar’s responsibility,” Corliss said. “The patrons need to be smart as well. Hopefully everybody can continue to enjoy themselves, and we can have a good, safe environment. That’s what we’re after.”
Although, five other establishments or bars had a higher number of overall calls, Sublet in a May 2 interview said law enforcement and city staff members believe Taste Lounge has presented greater public safety concerns and that the calls at Taste were more violent. In a memo to city commissioners, Sublet mentions the three firearm-related incidents since October. Suspects have been arrested and charged in all three of those cases.
But he also mentions other allegations, including the alleged rape in 2011 of a woman who was younger than 21 by a Taste employee in a VIP room and another allegation earlier this year in which three male employees of Taste picked up a woman at another drinking establishment after Taste had closed, took her back to Taste at 2:30 a.m., served the woman liquor “and proceeded to allegedly forcibly rape her.”
In a letter to Taste’s owner, Lee Riley of Topeka, City Attorney Toni Wheeler said Riley had indicated at an April meeting with the city he had planned to cease operations at Taste before May 15.
City officials on Friday said they had not yet received notice Riley had surrendered his liquor license to the state, and Doug Jorgensen, director of the Kansas Department of Revenue’s Alcoholic Beverage Control division, said Taste still had a valid liquor license. Jorgensen said if a license holder surrenders or has a license revoked, the establishment still could operate as a restaurant, for example, as long as it didn’t serve alcohol.