Tuesday, November 11, 2008

No more police in uniform working for bars/nightclubs!

Buz is not sure where this business of having uniformed city police officers working outside bars and nightclubs exactly began. When I first came on the police force (a couple of years ago), working around alcohol was strictly forbidden. Then the crack in the policy began when officers were allowed to work, in plainclothes, at various charity functions-to provide security as long as they did not have anything to do with serving alcohol.

Your consultant became aware of the first big deployment of uniformed officers at the 3rd iteration of Hammerjack's when it moved to Guilford Avenue. [At the second Hammerjack's, management more than fulfilled its order-maintenance role. In addition to heavy bouncer/security presence inside, at closing time, everybody had to be out by 2am, there was a trashcan at the exits, any drinks in your hand were grabbed and not allowed outside; once the club was empty, all the security staff (sometimes more than 25) went outside and told people they could not hang around the underpass and to leave the area. They harassed, cajoled, and pestered til you left. They were following to the letter their obligations to the community: this was all observed by us.] We understand that later things got rougher and rougher til the club closed to make way for Ravens Stadium and they opened at their location on Guilford. Sometimes, they would have 10, 15, or even more uniformed city police working "outside" the club, as the club made an explicit business determination to attract the "rough kind of crowd" where the big bucks were to be made. This crowd required the presence of armed, uniformed off-duty police officrs--and lots of them.

Gradually, other bars and nightclubs across town began having them too. One bar owner in Brooklyn had more cops working for him, than working in the surrounding Sector 1 neighborhoods of Southern District-who were working for the city. {It didn't work: that bar had its licensed revoked by the liquor board because of the crowds and violence the owner attracted-deliberately, as a business decision.} Apparently, now many of the clubs in the Market Place and downtown area, as well as in Federal Hill now hire off-duty officers, often several at a time. Because of some problems that have inevitably occurred, the Police Commissioner has ended the authorization for secondary employment at these places effective November 17th. The world will not end, and life will go on.

I know many of my wonderful former colleagues in the department who work these details cannot see it, but there is an inherent conflict of interest in having officers work in licensed beverage outlets such as bars, nightclubs, and strip joints. The police department has the first level of legal oversight of these places, and the economic interests of the owners sometimes conflicts with legal mandates. I mean, c'mon, it's against the law to allow persons under 21 to drink booze and it's against the law to serve persons who become so inebriated that they want to fight and become obnoxious. 
At least one club sponsors buses to take dozens of college students (all seniors and 21 of course) directly to their club. They have been banned from the Towson University campus, and have been teh subject of complaints by other neighborhoods where they pick up and drop off these kids, in keeping with their "business model". And if your business model relies on those factors plus attracting a "thug" crowd, as well as an atmosphere of Preakness Infield-like activity, then I guess you would need several armed, uniformed police. Buz thinks you should re-assess your business model and its needs for security.
Ya can't have fights and barroom brawls, with police present, and nobody, including them, sees anything. The commissioner alluded to the combative, rowdy drunks being thrown out of the bar, only to have to be dealt with by the city police. And there have been instances whereby the city has been forced to pay settlements when bar patrons were injured.

In addition to liability, the department has to eat the court time that any of these officers get as a result of assignments there (oh, they're supposed to charge it to their secondary employers; betcha, 23-1, it doesn't happen, because the administrative challenges are too formidable.) The department can also get stuck with sick leave, workers comp, and have the potential for "double dipping". So, while, yes, the business owners are paying the salary of the cops, if anything happens, they want them to put themselves "on duty", in order to take police action with the city carrying any liability.

This reminds Buz of the untenable situation that occurred for many years at the Preakness infield: the city police deploying hundreds of officers (really on duty, though) to referee fights, drunkenness, and brawls often involving dozens. So that a large drunken frat party could occur and the TV stations could have "cute" shots of folks guzzling beer down tubes, etc. Over the years, many officers were injured, and a number of arrests occurred. Well, over the last several years, the city police segued out of doing it; last Preakness was totally security provided by Pimlico race track through its own sources and funding.

However, having taken a position in support of the commissioner, your consultant believes that he has also gotten himself into a conundrum: the patrol shifts in the city are at minimal strength. A few years ago, the department decided, for a variety of reasons, to eliminate one post in each patrol sector in the city on the midnight shift. Then later, the department decided, hey, patrol is worthless, so they then eliminated that same post on the day shift and 4-12 shift as well. So, there was a substantial reduction in the uniformed patrol presence, allowing them to dedicate more staff to specialized police units. Then, under yet another change, they decided to give each district only 160 officers, no matter how geographically large, or how many calls for service, or how much crime or accidents. 160 is it! One friend told me that when he was assigned toe the Northeastern District a number of years ago, they had well over 210 officers.

Violent Crime Impact Division has, depending on who you talk to, 200-300 officers. Betcha, 3-1, the bulk of them work secondary employment at bars/nightclubs. And, the Deputy Commissioner for Operations has not really spent much of his career in patrol; he made his mark in Narcotics stuff.

In the meantime, the poor patrol force, on midnight, has been relying on overtime to fill all its units for the first several hours of the shift. Apparently, there has now been placed a strict limitation on overtime. So, are those units now going to not be staffed, or are the few discretionary units available to the district commanders be called upon to fill 'em? And this overtime conundrum will  manifest itself when the bars let out without their police bar-employed babysitters. We'll see. Central and Southern District will be the most affected, because those areas seem to have the most Off-Duties working the clubs. Southeastern also has historically had a problem with post-bar club problems.
When I was a shift commander there, I usually had a district operations foot squad of 6 or so officers there on weekend nights, in addition to our whole patrol squad in Sector One--another 7 or 8. {At that time, none of the bars used off-duty police for security.}

For the guys and gals who want more off-duty overtime, there is plenty: Hopkins (both campuses), MICA, Loyola, Our Daily Bread, et al. And the guys and gals who own bars and clubs must reassess their business models and security situations in light of this new decision. It might require them to tighten up, reduce their income a bit, rethink and pay for security in a different way, and reduce the "socialization of risk" by relying on uniformed police in operating their businesses, but relying on the city when the heavy stuff goes down.

16 comments:

ppatin said...

I'm curious to see what impact this will have on some of the seedier bars in Fells Point. The area's more respectable establishments (Max's, Koopers, The Waterfront Hotel, etc) have never needed anything more than one or two people checking IDs, but some of the bars further up Broadway (Moby's and Rodo's come to mind) certainly benefit from having a couple of cops around in the evening.

buzoncrime said...

Do Rodos and Moby's use off-duty cops outside their joints?

Max's is one of the best and best-run bars in the city. Perfectly above-board and runs a decent, law-abiding place. I bellieve there's going to be a fund-raiser there later today for a cop who's dying of cancer.

By the way, I see you survived Halloween in Fell's Point; I understand there was a heavy police presence there as well as the tremendous crowd.

ppatin said...

I'm not sure if both of those bars use off-duty police officers, but there is at least one a little to the north of Max's that always has a uniformed cop outside during the evening. I think that it's Moby's, but I'll need to check next time I pass by it.

I'm also a little curious to see how Iguana Cantina handles security. That's one establishment I've never been to, but from what I hear they attract an odd mix of college kids and gang-bangers.

buzoncrime said...

Ok, so probably Moby's has Off-Duty Police. I'm also curious about Iguana, and I've never been there either. Probably the customer mix you're talking about is the reason they have a need for a half-dozen Off-Duties.

I think this might be the place that busses the Towson students in, particularly on Thursday nights.

I'm think of sending them a letter and brochure marketing my security consulting service; I also wonder how they're going to handle their security come November 17th. Maybe they are too!

ppatin said...

"I also wonder how they're going to handle their security come November 17th. Maybe they are too!"

They should hire some of the guys that Hammerjacks used to use as bouncers back when they were open. The crowd there could be a bit on the rough side, but they never had any trouble maintaining order.

Guiles said...

I used to work security on Thames St (1500, 1600, and 1700 blocks) and I remember the weekend nights being pretty intense, especially in the warmer weather. Trouble out on the streets usually leads to a relaxed attitude to trouble in general. If the streets were controlled more tightly and order maintained more thoroughly, there wouldn't be as many bar fights (not to mention robbery and general assaults, etc.). We kept a pretty tight ship back then though and didn't have as much trouble on our property as did many of our neighbors. Sometimes things still got insane, but not as much.

buzoncrime said...

Guiles---What clubs did your work for? Surfside Sally's, the Horse, John Steven, the Cat's Eye, or were you security for like that Brown's Wharf space?

And, You're right: if there is a heavy police presence in the area, the customers feel safer going to and from the places, and the owners have less trouble inside. So it actually becomes a much more profitable investment area all the way around.

We're glad the place you worked for maintained "a tight ship". Some places don't: the owners/managers look only at the temporary bottom line, rather than the long term viability and stability of the club, and its reputation.

If you tell me you MUST have 10-15 armed off-duty police in and around your place just in order to operate, Buz has to wonder: what's wrong with this picture.

buzoncrime said...

Guiles---What clubs did your work for? Surfside Sally's, the Horse, John Steven, the Cat's Eye, or were you security for like that Brown's Wharf space?

And, You're right: if there is a heavy police presence in the area, the customers feel safer going to and from the places, and the owners have less trouble inside. So it actually becomes a much more profitable investment area all the way around.

We're glad the place you worked for maintained "a tight ship". Some places don't: the owners/managers look only at the temporary bottom line, rather than the long term viability and stability of the club, and its reputation.

If you tell me you MUST have 10-15 armed off-duty police in and around your place just in order to operate, Buz has to wonder: what's wrong with this picture.

Guiles said...

I was at Brown's Wharf. I started as a regular security officer, then moved up to Supervisor right after the whole Isabel thing. We had a good crew who was willing to take photos of troublemakers and get ID's. We always tried to go the extra mile. I'm a Correctional Officer in Vermont now, and even doing this I sometimes miss the 'Old Days' in Fell's point. Baltimore can be a really great place.

Guiles said...

An additional note: The contractor we worked for at the time was not very helpful, and we frequently found ourselves on our own out there with little or no support. Contract security is like Russian Roulette sometimes. We got lucky and had a crew out there consisting of really good officers, but we definitely had our share of dead weight. We all left at roughly the same time, so I have no idea what it's like or who's out there these days. For all I know those guys might be sleeping in the back room at night these days (or out in the open, in the lobby, as a few short lived folks were known to do).

buzoncrime said...

Thanks for your comments, Guiles. Fell's Point also has fond memories for me, too, since I grew up around the Perkins Homes and "Broadway" (we kids didn't call it Fells Point-a name that didn't pick up cachet til the Festival started).

And, of course, being a native Baltimoron, I also think that Baltimore can be a really great place that grows on you, despite its problems.

Thanks for sharing your feelings of being "out there alone" in the private contract security field. I don't think you're alone in that feeling. Security officers do a lot of unheralded, unrecognized, but valuable work--as do correctional officers.

And there were times on the police force when, in one of the "far flung outpost" districts and on various shifts, we felt out there alone.

I think Brown's Wharf is largely leased by a variety of offices of Johns Hopkins University now, so I betcha they have Broadway Services Silver Star Security there.

I hope some of my readers might let me know if that's so.

ppatin said...

Buz:

I heard someone else speculating that the whole ban on cops doing security for bars was a ploy by the commissioner to get more $$$ for people and overtime from the city. Do you think that theory is even vaguely reasonable, or are people reading into this too much?

buzoncrime said...

As far as I can tell, Bealefeld is being above board on his motives here--the inherent conflict of interest ever-present. (Please note that Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Howard Counties don't allow their officers to work at bars and nightclubs off-duty--in uniform or otherwise.)

Unless things have changed since I was there (2001), the overtime for bars is not processed thru the city for a profit. The department authorizes the officer to work overtime in uniform, and the bar selects, schedules, pays the officers directly or through a company such as Millenium Security run by a police lieutenant. Other places, such as local colleges and Hopkins Medicine use the same system. This differs from "city overtime", such as at the stadiums, footraces, parades, and spots like Our Daily Bread. In those cases, the whole scheduling is managed by the department; the user pays for who they get, but don't choose who it is, and in fact, sometimes they don't show up. But even in this case, I don't believe the city makes any money on it--perhaps a modest processing fee. Almost all the money goes to the officers.

Of course, as I've mentioned in the blog, the potential for city losses for bar security outweigh any money they might possibly make.

The real issue here is that: though the city has put a lot of pressure on bar owners to clean up their security act, the Commissioner is withdrawing cops for what he considers ethical and liability reasons. Look for the owners to put pressure on politically to reinstate the Off-Duties.

Buz will be following events closely next weekend to see what happens, particularly when a lot of Philadelphia football fans come to town and go to Fed Hill and the Point.

Anon Bouncer said...

Buz,

Millenium Security unfortunately has largely gotten out of the game. John ran into some unfortunate situations about 2 years ago. Now it's run through city overtime. The bars are billed through the city for the hours worked.

As has been discussed, I understand the city's liability concerns, while at the same time, if crimes are being committed, why should the city police get involved?

More importantly, it's easy to say the bars should clean up their act, but at the same time, which I agree with, but I don't think that will solve all the problems. Where I work things are run very tightly, but we still have our fair share of trouble, the largest coming from people who we will NOT let it. Especially when they're in groups who fail to comply with the dress code and have wonderful attitudes to boot. We tell them no, go away, there are 20 bars within 1/4 of a mile, pick another one, they go nuts. Without the police being present, nothing is stopping them from giving us a run for our money. I can call 911, but lord knows what the response time is. Our only option at that point is a street brawl.

Furthermore, the police do a great job deterring the rowdy behavior of other non-patrons as well as the aggressive and other undesirables. I personally think this is a bad decision on the city's part, and places us in a bad situation. If someone is ejected while an officer is present, they say a few kind words to us and then are shooed away. Now they'll be free to engage in whatever destructive behavior they so chose, leaving us with few options. Engaging in any contact outside of the bar would be a bad idea, so what are we to do?

buzoncrime said...

Dear Anonymous Bouncer--
Thanks for commenting; the voice of the bouncers/security/customer staff of these bars and nightclubs isn't heard too much. Buz knows that the overwhelming majority of you guys are just out there trying to make a few bucks, or, in some cases trying to make a living. And most of you are pretty nice, as long as people are nice to you (just like cops, I guess).

I know that the removal of the Off-Duty Police won't solve the problems totally--especially in the short term. As I mentioned in my original post, a strong police presence (on duty) helps deter unruly behavior. For the short term, things could get a little wild. It's the nature of the business, I guess.

I didn't know Millennium Security was out of the picture; or that the Off_Duty Police for the bars was set up through the city secondary system. Thanks for letting me know. Does Hopkins secondary work the same way now?

I also know the removal of the cops can place you or some of your colleagues in an awkward, bad situation. Again, I hope the Police Department establishes details for the bar areas which are a deterrent, until a long-term solution to the problem is concocted. It was an interesting point you made about the people who are not admitted are the ones who cause the most problems. If your only option is a "street brawl", I might humbly suggest that this is not a good option either. As you point out, under these circumstances it might not be the wise thing to do to go out onto the street and confront them.

To directly answer your question, what are we to do: I cannot get to a direct, distinct answer because this can be a complicated one for each club since the exact circumstances are different. Without a direct observation, your question would be hard to answer--except in generalities.

For the specific situation you describe, I would use several techniques and changes in practices: large, clear, specific, easily-seen posting of the dress codes; making sure the group is turned away politely, and that the code is evenly applied to all; and having an inclusive and diverse group of staff (I wouldn't call them bouncers), including women, who would professionally turn the group away. If there is an escalation of violence, the staff should retreat into the club and await police.

We're going to roaming the bar areas at night this weekend, checking on the security situation, and maybe blogging about our findings. We may even stop into a fine bar, and have a cool refreshing beverage (hopefully, this won't mess up your consultant's onboard computer). We'll make every effort to stay away from the Block; but we may respectfully and discreetly gaze at some of the pretty women YOU get to see all the time in your role.
In the meantime, if you're bouncing, and the things start to get hairy, remember survive comes firsts. If you find your situation at your place too dangerous, I'm sure you could easily jump to some other place.
Good luck, be safe, and let our readers know how this weekend turns out!

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