DeStefano targets bar and nightclub violence

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Photo by Jennifer Cheung.

With the last few months of his tenure, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is making one last push to curb violence around bars and nightclubs.

In the wake of the Oct. 26 shooting at the Key Club Cabaret that killed one New Haven resident and wounded five others, DeStefano announced his hopes of enacting a six-part legislative package that would impose stricter standards on liquor-licensed entertainment venues and increase security presence during peak hours. The Key Club shooting was the latest in a string of violent incidents around nightclub establishments — four homicides and 11 shootings have taken place in or around nightclubs in 2013 — that has resulted in a citywide desire to get the legislation in place soon. On Nov. 19, a public safety committee consisting of seven aldermen met to discuss this plan and some progress in its still-early stages, among other issues.

“The general idea is that we’ve submitted these concepts to the Board of Aldermen for a public hearing and public discussion on what the best ideas are,” said Robert Smuts, the city’s chief administrative officer. “We’re encouraging the public, bar owners, legislators and anybody else to give their input and further shape [the ideas].”

Smuts added that, once the plan has been sufficiently refined, a public hearing will be held in New Haven before the proposal is sent to the state in early 2014, when state legislators must approve it.

At a press conference following the Key Club shooting, DeStefano said that he believes that it is important for New Haven citizens to begin a discussion about addressing nighttime violence.

“[This is] the right opportunity for public comment on the proposed legislation,” DeStefano said. “It’s going to be a good thing to have that discussion locally, including anyone affected by the proposed legislation who wants to come out and engage us.”

The most significant and complicated aspect of the legislation that DeStefano has proposed concerns the creation of a tax that only entertainment venues would pay. Smuts said that bars and restaurants in the entertainment district would be able to vote on the amount that they would be taxed and the resulting funds would increase nighttime security.

According to Smuts, the majority of club and bar owners have an interest in helping to fund enhanced bar security, which he said speaks to the generally cooperative relationship that the city has had with bar and club owners so far in pushing for this reform. However, he added that there has been some resistance, generally from those that own venues with problematic histories of violence.

“[The relationship with bar owners] varies,” Smuts said. “Ones that we view as responsible have been receptive to these ideas. Some of the ones that we have more problems with have been more hostile.”

New Haven Police Department involvement is another focus of the plan, which would regulate the licensing and training of bouncers and approach the State Liquor Control Commission with the names of bars that have a history of some violence.

The last three components of the plan involve tightening the requirements in place for clubs to acquire different types of liquor permits. They would also provide the authority to seek an injunction and close a venue for being a “threat to public safety” and, for venues that do not need to be shut down, but that have some history of violence, mandating that they hire more security officers.

Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 said that the movement to stop nightlife violence through legislative action did not arise in response to the alarming spike crime at clubs in 2013, but that the legislation has been in the works for several years. Hausladen added that it is in the best interest of these bars and clubs to curb violence and also to maintain an exciting nightlife in New Haven.

“[Club and bar owners’] incentive is to stay in business,” Hausladen said. “Violence is not good for their business, just like it’s not good for a neighborhood or the victims of that violence.”

Smuts said that downtown New Haven has the heaviest concentration of bars and clubs in the city.

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