Volume 76, Number 13 | August 16 - 22, 2006

Quinn calls for scanners and cameras; Clubs want off-duty cops

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Police at Avenue A and Seventh St. on Saturday night handed out “Nightlife Safety Tip” cards to passing bargoers. The cards advise people to know what street they are on, always carry a cell phone and never leave a bar or club with a stranger.

By Albert Amateau

In response to recent murders of patrons of West Chelsea and Soho clubs, including an 18-year-old woman last month, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn on Aug. 8 proposed a package of measures to increase safety and security in nightlife venues throughout the city.

In response, the city’s leading nightlife operation is renewing its call to allow bars and clubs to pay off-duty, uniformed police officers to patrol outside their establishments.

At a City Hall news conference attended by state and city elected officials, Quinn proposed that the city take over local enforcement of State Liquor Authority rules — a measure that would require state legislation.

Quinn also called for a city legislation package that would include requiring clubs to install scanners to detect fake ID’s, to have security cameras at entrances and exits and to require venues with serious or repeated violations to hire independent monitors approved by the Police Department, to make sure they comply with the law.

In addition, Quinn plans to schedule a Nightlife Safety Summit at City Hall in September bringing together nightlife industry, community groups, law enforcement, other government agencies and elected representatives to devise solutions to nightlife safety issues.

“The summit will include all the key players,” Quinn said. “We intend to come up with a code of best practices to make sure we have a nightlife that’s safe for patrons and for the community,” she added, noting that the New York Nightlife Association and Police Department have already agreed to attend.

NYNA’s response to the summit was positive and urged going a step beyond.

“The summit is great. We’ve been asking for it for some time,” said Robert Bookman, an attorney who represents the nightlife association. “But it’ll be a success only if all the parties are ready to work together to find new ways of dealing with the problems,” he added.

Bookman insisted that paid detail — allowing off-duty police paid by nightlife operators to patrol clubs and club neighborhoods in uniform — should be the key to any solution. The operators would not pay the officers directly, but would pay the department’s Paid Detail Unit, which would, in turn, pay the officers. But Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has reaffirmed the long-standing department opposition to paid detail.

Many establishments already have ID scanners, Bookman said.

“Say they catch 49 out of 50 fake ID’s,” he said. “The only consequence is that the kids don’t get in — so they try someplace else. If there were police that we could call right away — having false ID after all is a felony — the situation would change. A few weeks of those arrests, and making the parents of those N.Y.U. and Columbia students deal with it, everyone would know that New York City is not the place to go with fraudulent ID,” Bookman said, in advocating for paid detail, where police would be nearby enough to nail bar- and clubgoers caught with fake ID’s.

“I’d rather spend $8,000 putting a cop on the street than buy a few cameras,” Bookman added.

An aide to Quinn estimated that a scanner would cost about $800 and a surveillance camera between $8,000 and $10,000.

“I doubt that a camera would have prevented the murder of the 18-year-old girl last month. She was picked up on the West Side Highway after her car got towed away,” Bookman recalled of murder victim Jennifer Moore. Moore had been drinking at the Guest House club in Chelsea, despite being underage.

Quinn and her fellow Councilmembers on Aug.8 acknowledged how important nightlife was to New York.

“But we want to give the city power to close establishments that don’t follow the best practices,” Quinn said. “Perhaps if these measures were in place they could have prevented some of these recent tragedies,” she added.

In May, Quinn introduced the Bouncer Bill, legislation that would allow the city to padlock establishments that hire security personnel who are unlicensed, have criminal backgrounds or carry unlicensed weapons.

Councilmembers Alan Jay Gerson and Rosie Mendez stood with Quinn at the Aug. 8 news conference along with state Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, State Senator Tom Duane and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Quinn credited Gerson with taking a leading role in supporting the Bouncer Bill introduced last month. Gerson also has long supported city administration of S.L.A. rules.

“For years, communities have called on the S.L.A. to enforce the law, and there has been insufficient results,” Gerson said. “If they’re not going to do the job, the city should have the power to do it. We have the greatest concentration of nightlife and we should be able to control it,” Gerson said.

Quinn said that S.L.A. enforcement powers could be vested in a new city agency or assigned to existing agencies. While current law provides for padlocking establishments that violate the law and are the focus of police attention, Quinn said new legislation would expedite the process. She recalled that Sessa, a notorious club on W. 23rd St., closed for good in January 2004 only after more than two years of rowdy patron behavior and frequent violence.

Quinn’s call for requiring clubs to install cameras at entrances and exits provoked concerns about privacy last week among gay rights and civil liberties advocates. Allen Roskoff, a well-known Village gay activist, and the New York Civil Liberties Union last week both objected to what they said would be an invasion of privacy posed by the cameras.

However, at the Aug. 8 news conference on nightlife security, Quinn had said, “People know that when you go to an establishment where liquor is sold you have to prove you are of age, so I don’t believe there is any expectation of privacy when you go to a club.”

Quinn had also said she doubted there was a privacy issued because cameras are now common in public places and at businesses and residences. But civil liberties and gay-rights advocates said the situation is different for people entering a gay club than it is for people being videotaped at a bank or on the street.

The club-related violence this year that provoked the City Council to call for new legislation includes:

Jennifer Moore, 18, of New Jersey, murdered July 25, after a night of underage drinking at Guest House, 542 W. 27th St. Draymond Coleman, 36, was charged with raping and killing her after picking her up on the West Side Highway where she was wandering after the car that was supposed to take her home had been towed to the pound at Pier 76.

Two women patrons of Crobar, 538 W. 28 St., were hit in the legs by the same .22-caliber bullet apparently fired at random during the early hours of July 13. The women are suing Crobar.

Gustavo Cuadros, a patron at Opus 22, 559 W. 22nd St., with his brother and two friends, was shot to death outside the club while his brother and friends were severely injured. The Opus 22 bouncer, Stephen Sakai, was charged with the shooting and also in connection with three previous homicides in connected with the club security business.

Imette St. Guillen, a student at John Jay College, was raped and murdered on Feb. 25 after last having been drinking at The Falls, 215 Lafayette St. Darryl Littlejohn, an unlicensed bouncer at The Falls, was charged in her death.

Last Saturday night, police at Avenue A and Seventh St. on handed out “Nightlife Safety Tip” cards to passing bargoers.

The cards’ 11 tips include: Do not accept drinks from anyone if you did not see them prepared; Do not leave your drink unattended for any period of time; Always inform a family member or friend of your whereabouts; When entering a bar or club, always know where emergency exits are located in case of a fire or other emergencies; Be familiar with your surroundings (street names, landmarks, etc.) — this specific information will be needed to locate you; Do not drink and drive or accept a ride from anyone who has been drinking — designate a driver who will not drink; Do not leave your bag unattended; Arrange a buddy system with a friend and always watch after each other; Never leave a bar or club with a stranger; Carry a cell phone — when possible, call 911 if you are being harassed; and Always carry enough money for a taxi.

The “Nightlife Safety Tips” cards state prominently in red type that the legal drinking age is 21 and that it’s unlawful to have or present false or forged identification.

Police, who gave out the cards on Friday night too, were also seen passing them out on First Ave., around Union Square and in Chelsea.

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