A proposed city ordinance would force New Haven’s bars and nightclubs — recently beleaguered by violence — to pay the city thousands of dollars for increased police security at events.
According to the ordinance, which was proposed by city officials at an aldermanic committee meeting Wednesday night, clubs would have to notify police of all advertised events two days in advance and pay a security tab calculated by city police. The ordinance would also apply to parades and other public entertainment events and would give the city the power to change event logistics, such as parade routes, if the events’ organizers could not pay the initial security costs.
The proposal coincides with a recent spate of violence at downtown clubs, including a November stabbing at Club Sinergy and a brawl on Crown Street Sunday morning that put eight police officers in the hospital and nine people in handcuffs. City officials said they proposed the law to have more police control over downtown security and to cut down on police costs. Five aldermen at the meeting said they hope to approve the law in part because of the recent downtown violence.
“This would give us the grounds to be pretty aggressive in requiring appropriate police coverage,” Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts ’01 said.
Though the ordinance would give the city the legal right to force bars to pay the cost of security, Smuts, who argued for the legislation at the committee meeting, said police would use their discretion in determining which events to charge for and how to charge their organizers. He added that the primary goal of the legislation is to increase police cooperation with clubs; it would be up to the bars and clubs to provide the police with the schedule of their events.
But Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said his concern is not that the law would target too many bars and events, but too few, because organizers might choose not to notify police about all major events they host.
“Why are you being so tentative and nice with these guys?” Goldfield asked Redding and Smuts at the meeting. “If all those clubs closed tomorrow, I’d be very happy.”
Smuts and Assistant Police Chief Stephanie Redding said at the meeting that the ordinance would be applying a Connecticut law that gives police chiefs across the state the power to charge entertainment venues for security.
The police have already used the state law to charge for some events, and the costs can be steep: Smuts said the police cost of providing security for the 2009 New Haven Road Race, for example, with its 6,000 participants, was $16,000. The city ordinance would now give police the explicit authority to charge for more events.
Committee members at the meeting also expressed support for the legislation, but they cited downtown safety, not savings, as their main concern. Smuts said the ordinance would improve safety by encouraging clubs to keep events to reasonable sizes in order to avoid running up costly bills.
At the meeting, aldermen such as Ward 16 Alderwoman Migdalia Castro said the measure is crucial to preventing more nighttime skirmishes, which deter tourists and potential residents.
Still, three of the five aldermen who support the law — Goldfield, Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez and Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark — said they are concerned that the legislation does not provide a definition of an “event.”
Clark said the legislation as it currently stands could make every Toad’s Place concert or dance party subject to police control. This would add an unnecessary burden to Toad’s and other clubs that already keep events safe, she said.
Owners and managers of three local clubs — Hula Hanks and Static on Crown Street and Toad’s on York Street — could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Smuts said he would have preferred imposing an entertainment tax on bars and clubs that serve alcohol, but state law does not permit such a tax. New Haven Police Chief James Lewis has also said he supports such a tax.
While most organizers under the ordinance would have to pay the costs of security to the city in full, parade organizers would be allowed to forgo the payment if they provided proof that they tried to raise the money and failed, Smuts said. He added that protest organizers would not have pay.
After a disturbance on Crown Street in December, Ward 3 Alderwoman Jacqueline James-Evans proposed a law to ban underage nights at city clubs. Police raided Toad’s earlier this month in a crackdown on underage drinking.