A year ago, as downtown bars and clubs were closing just past 2 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010, three men started shooting at each other at the corner of College and Crown streets. When police arrived and tried to stop the firefight, one man turned and shot at the officers. Amidst the gunfire, hundreds of panicking restaurant and clubgoers ran from nearby establishments as bullets pierced the glass of windows at the nearby Arts and Humanities High School and Pacifico restaurant. By the time the guns quieted, about 30 shots had been fired. Two of the shooters were hit by gunfire from the third gunman, the one who initially shot at police. The two wounded men were arrested that night and the third was captured several days later after he walked into a local hospital suffering from a gunshot wound of his own.
The incident — which took place just one block south of Old Campus — sparked a political backlash that led New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. to announce a week later Operation Nightlife — a police initiative to crack down on nightlife culture in the downtown clubs and bars. One year later, both the New Haven Police Department and bar and club owners report a complete success for the initiative. With few violent downtown incidents this September, the NHPD is scaling back their efforts, said department spokesman David Hartman.
“As long as we have people coming downtown, then we’ll have some issues,” he said. “But it’s been a lot quieter than it was last year, and that in and of itself is testament to [the operation’s] success.”
The only incident in recent months related to the downtown nightlife scene was a fist fight on Center and Church atreets two weeks ago. Compared with last year’s Sept. 19 shooting and Aug. 14 murder in a parking lot near the Gotham Citi nightclub, this year has been relatively quiet, Hartman said.
A number of local club and bar owners agree with the NHPD’s assessment of the success of Operation Nightlife. Mark McLeod, manager of Wicked Wolf Tavern on Temple Street, said fights have never been a problem at his establishment, but that over the past year he has noticed an overall decrease in the number of violent incidents downtown. He attributed this improvement to an increased police presence on the streets over past years. An owner and another manager of nearby bars agreed that the operation has helped with the violence in the area, but were quick to deny any crime at their respective establishments.
But in addition to adding officers on the ground, “Operation Nightlife” was created specifically to remedy the partying culture in New Haven.
“I think, frankly, I was too tolerant of some of the behaviors we’ve seen on the street,” DeStefano said last September. He cited public drinking and some local clubs’ promotions, including $1 pitcher nights, as instigators of downtown violence.
John Ginnetti, owner of the bar 116 Crown, said in email to the News that his establishment has never had any of the crime problems that plagued his neighbors. He did say that he thinks the NHPD’s reaction to last year’s downtown violence was appropriate, especially since the crime in the area has decreased substantially this year.
“I think the violence that we saw downtown last year was an anomaly and was the product of a kind of club-going individual not before seen in New Haven,” Ginnetti said.
Dan Brodoff, a manager of BAR, said that although fights are also not a problem at his nightclub, BAR experienced a noticeable slowdown in business for a few weeks during early fall of last year, around the time of the “police crackdown.” He blamed this decline on how NHPD and media coverage “put a scare in people” with the way they handled Operation Nightlife.
Business soon picked back up for BAR, but other effects of Operation Nightlife remain. Brodoff said the operation’s impact has been most visible with the improved ability of officers to deal with crowds leaving bars and clubs at closing time. He added that the initiative has also succeeded in clearing downtown streets much more quickly than they used to.
“I don’t think there was enough police force in the streets,” Brodoff said. “Now it seems to be a bit better.”
Only Bernstein, said that violence in downtown New haven was “nothing to be worried about.” Bernstein is a manager of new Club NYX which opened last month on Temple Street — in the same location that used to house Hula Hank’s bar.
Although New Haven has seen more murders this year than any other since 1994 — 25 total — overall violent crime is down in the Elm City.