New nightlife strategy proposed

New Haven has proposed that new fees be levied on downtown bars and clubs.
New Haven has proposed that new fees be levied on downtown bars and clubs. Photo by Sarah Sullivan.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark is playing diplomat between New Haven officials and bar owners.

Clark has proposed alternative measures in response to the city’s proposal to levy extra fees on bars and clubs downtown, which some aldermen see as the source of drunken weekend rowdiness on New Haven streets. Clark’s comments to the News in a phone interview last Friday revisit the proposal Mayor John DeStefano Jr. made to charge bars for extra police coverage on Sept. 3 last year. Clark said that she would favor other methods of deterring miscreant behavior, such as increased confiscation of fake IDs and police arrests, over taxing bars. She disagrees with the current proposal because it only taxes bars and not other late-night establishments.

“I’m in favor of what the bars are in favor of,” she said. “The majority of bars have said, ‘I’m willing to do it, provided that I’m not the only one doing it and provided that there are some other things that happen.’”

Clark said doormen should confiscate fake IDs, bars should refuse alcohol to inebriated patrons and the police should make more arrests for misbehavior. Clark said the confiscation of fake IDs could serve as a reliable deterrent, but the uncertainty of whether bar owners can do so legally makes the proposal a complex issue.

Joseph Avery, New Haven Police Department spokesman, said that issues regarding fake IDs are in the domain of the Connecituct Liquor Control Commission and could not comment on it.

Dieter von Rabenstein, the manager and owner of Richter’s on Chapel Street, said he pays his doorman $10 for every fake ID, a move that has brought him over a thousand fake IDs in his two decades at Richter’s, though he has destroyed most of them.

“If you want fake IDs, give [bouncers] an incentive,” he said. “Money talks.”

Other managers said they did not consider confiscating fake IDs because of legal concerns.

“If the ID is questionable, we turn them away, but we don’t confiscate it,” said Dan Bernstein, the manager of Black Bear Saloon on Temple Street.

Clark also argued in support for more arrests as another prong in her strategy to minimize nightlife misbehavior.

“One of the problems is, there’s no kind of consequences for going downtown and misbehaving,” she said. “Nobody gets hauled off to the police station if they have a fake ID, or if they’re fighting, or if they’re urinating in the street.”

Frank Patrick, the manager of BAR on Crown Street, agreed that policemen rarely make arrests for misbehavior.

“A lot of the business owners down here want to see law enforcement take more action against these unruly people,” Patrick said. “It’s frustrating for employees because the police don’t do anything, they just tell them to move on. There’s really little action taken.”

Avery disputed those claims and added that police are already doing their job.

“Anybody that is caught with disruptive behavior is taken into custody,” he said. “The cops do make arrests. There are arrests downtown every weekend.”

According to Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01, however, the ability to make arrests is constrained by “capacity issues,” part of the reason why the city wants a tax to be able to pay for an extra police detail. “It’s just a question about having enough manpower,” Smuts said. “When you make an arrest, that takes an officer out of commission in dealing with other issues.”

Besides the threat of arrest, managers interviewed agreed with Clark that bars have the responsibility to stop serving alcohol to patrons who are visibly inebriated. Von Rabenstein suggested that the city should institute mandatory training for employees of bars and clubs so that they are equipped to deal with alcohol issues.

“What happens on the street is not my problem,” he said. “However, I do have responsibility for the people I put on the street. I have responsibility not to get someone so f—ed up that they can’t see straight.”

The city offered free voluntary TIPS, or Training for Intervention Procedures, training last year, Smuts said, but it is not in the city’s power to mandate it.

Clark said the city was well aware of the need to balance public safety and decency with the economic benefit clubs and bars bring to the city. The strip of establishments on Crown Street alone provides 600 unskilled jobs, she said, jobs that are valuable to the city.

“We’ve been talking about this for years,” Clark said. “This [proposal] is not something new. But there are more and more people living downtown, so there has been more and more pushback.”

There are approximately a dozen New Haven bars and clubs that operate in the downtown area.

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