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.