Volume 73, Number 49 | April 7 - 13, 2004


Off-duty police and bars; it’s time for a closer look

Later this month, the City Council’s Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing on Councilmember David Yassky’s proposed legislation to allow uniformed off-duty police officers to be posted outside bars and nightclubs.

Known as “paid detail,” off-duty officers in uniform with guns, currently are allowed to be employed by Shea and Yankee stadiums, Madison Sq. Garden, malls and department stores, as well as large events. These businesses or private organizations pay the Police Department’s Paid Detail Unit, which, in turn, disburses the payments to the officers.

For six years, the New York Nightlife Association has backed paid detail for bars and nightclubs. NYNA argues uniformed police officers would be better able than bouncers to control sidewalk noise, crowding and the violent incidents that sometimes occur outside liquor-licensed premises. The mere uniform is a deterrent, the association says.

With the recent vote of Community Board 3, which represents the East Village and Lower East Side, there are now three Manhattan community boards in support of paid detail for liquor-licensed premises. Board 4, representing Chelsea and Clinton, and Board 5, representing mid-Manhattan from Union Sq. to Central Park S., also support paid detail.

David Rabin — NYNA’s president and owner of Lotus in the Meat Market and Union Bar on Park Ave. S. — and a representative for Yassky, both said that driving the latest push for paid detail is Mayor Bloomberg’s smoking ban, which has increased neighborhood noise because more bar and club, as well as restaurant, patrons are now smoking on sidewalks.

In theory, paid detail might sound like a good idea. But there’s a reason why it is not currently allowed by the city. There is an inherent potential for conflict of interest when an officer is directly employed by a private business. For example, what would happen when on-duty officers responded to complaints at the premises? Would there be a temptation to minimize the complaints? There is also the concern about the off-duty officers being in proximity to the illicit activity that occurs at some nightspots. Would there be a temptation to turn a blind eye — or accept payoffs? Surely, all officers — we hope most — would not do so. But, as in any profession, there will be those who will succumb when put in trouble’s way.

It seems that that has been the Police Department’s and City Hall’s position up until now — that it would open the door to the possibility for corruption and conflict of interest to allow paid detail for bars.

And yet, there is clearly growing support for the idea among community boards in Midtown and Downtown Manhattan, the areas of the city most heavily saturated with liquor licenses and cabaret licenses, the latter which are needed for large dance clubs.

That word, “saturation,” however, points to another cause — along with the smoking ban — that residents say is to blame for the current problem of nighttime noise from liquor-licensed premises. Simply, the residents and community boards charge, the State Liquor Authority has been indiscriminately dispensing liquor licenses to all comers.

The possibility of paid detail in bar-saturated neighborhoods deserves careful review, and the hearing on Yassky’s legislation will be the best opportunity to flesh out the pros and cons of this issue. Perhaps paid detail is an idea whose time has finally come. Perhaps it should be avoided. We’re looking forward to the hearing and the debate.

The Villager beat

The Villager once again enjoyed success in the New York Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest, winning 10 awards, including three first-place awards, for 2003. It was an all-around team effort, from our staff’s reporting on important local issues, like Pier 40 and the Seward Park redevelopment sites, to columns from the incredibly talented Jerry Tallmer, and photographs from the phenomenal Q. Sakamaki. Also, it must be said that we’re lucky and appreciative to be covering one of the world’s most exciting and vibrant communities in Downtown Manhattan. In fact, as we’ve said before over the last few years, we owe it all to the community, which makes it all possible. Thanks again — and let’s do it again. Here’s to continued success.

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