Tuesday, December 25, 2012

DC laws make it too easy to close bars because of nearby crimes they cannot prevent



The Washington Blade has run an op-ed by Mark Lee, “D.C. Police Lanier missteps on bar closures”, link here

The article discusses laws in Washington DC that allow police to close a bar for 96 hours when there is a violent incident on the premises or sometimes within 1000 feet of the premises (like an adjoining street).  The  DC ABC Board also may decide not to reinstate a liquor license when that period expires.

It isn’t necessary to go into Cathy Lanier’s leadership here.  There have indeed been some horrible crimes in Washington DC in recent months.  (For example, a young married father was beaten into a long-lasting coma in the SE Capitol Hill area after leaving a tavern near Nationals Park.) But the obvious problem is that a business could be closed permanently because of behavior outside of its premises that it has no way to prevent, behavior almost certainly not even caused by patrons or associates of the establishment. As with a movie theater, for example, there is also obviously no certain way to prevent someone from entering a business intending to do harm;  club owners do not have the resources of the TSA.  The entire policy seems to show a disregard for “due process” with respect to property rights.

The op-ed mentions a couple of clubs in the U Street corridor, rapidly changing with gentrification and real estate development, that were affected by the policies.  Neither of these were “gay” clubs in the usual sense, and I have not heard of any incidents at gay establishments in recent years.  But obviously policies like these indirectly  put a cloud on the future of all such businesses in the city.

I have seen brawls of fights in gay bars only twice since 1973, when I first started going to them.  One happened in London (England) in 1982, and another in Wailuku, Hawaii in 1980.  These seem to be rare events.In Minneapolis, around the early part of the previous decade, there were one or two bouncers who would refuse to admit patrons or eject them when they showed the slightest evidence of stumbling.  

When I moved to Dallas, Texas at the beginning of 1979, police entrapment in gay bars was sometimes a problem, and didn’t stop until 1981, when a defendant was acquitted by a duly skeptical bench judge.

The Blade tweeted this article Christmas Day. (Someone was "working" the holiday!)  The issue may tend to attract even more media attention, given the recent national attention to the weapons debate.  

Update: Jan 4. 2013

The Washington Post has a story by Peter Hermann, Jan. 2, "Lanier steps up use of power to close D.C. bars; Businesses suspended 15 times in 2012; Opinions split on cheif's use of emergency order", link here.  Police say that altercations outside bars have often started inside them.

It's important to remember that open businesses on a city street generally make it safer for pedestrians, as ordinary street crime will be less on streets that have a lot of normal foot traffic.  Most street crime in cities takes place on residential streets away from businesses that are open at night.  In Washington DC, there are more police cars near bars just to catch people walking to cars under the influence.  Closing bars because of problems near their premises may not make sense for public safety in the long run.  

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