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Additional security required at Greensboro night clubs

by Jeff Sykes

City requires armed guards at 28 clubs in Greensboro

jeff@yesweekly.com | @jeffreysykes

Greensboro City Council passed a nightclub security ordinance last week that mandates extra armed security for an initial list of 28 establishments, but the scope of the regulations, and the breadth of its reach, remains unclear. (See Jan. 14 article.)

The issue of nightclub safety has been on the city council radar for several years, with a set of proposed regulations debated in 2012 yielding little benefits. The issue thrust itself back to the forefront following a bloody weekend in November in Downtown Greensboro. One man was shot and killed in a gunfight on Nov. 8 between groups of people leaving downtown nightclubs. A Greensboro police officer shot and injured another man when he arrived at the intersection of Elm and Lewis streets and saw the gun battle taking place.

An incident the next night, initially reported to be a stabbing, happened on the same street, causing city leaders to hold emergency meetings about downtown security.

At last week’s city council meeting, City Attorney Tom Carruthers presented the new ordinance, saying it was a response to the council’s request for immediate action.

The ordinance, which passed 8-1, with Council member Marikay Abuzuaiter voting no, affects all nightclubs and dance halls with a capacity of 100 or more. It requires those clubs to hire two armed and one unarmed security for 200 or more occupants, and goes up by one additional guard for every additional 100 occupants.

A club with occupancy between 100- 200 is required to have two uniformed, off-duty law enforcement officers, or two armed security guards trained and regulated by state statute. Over 200 occupants requires one additional unarmed guard, with a second unarmed guard being necessary if capacity exceeds 300.

Once capacity extends beyond 400, the requirement moves up in increments of 200 persons requiring one additional unarmed security guard.

Other aspects of the ordinance require the security staff be visible “outside of the facility at parking sites immediately adjacent to the premises which are used by patrons,” in addition to areas “within 150 feet of the entrances to the facility …”

The ordinance mandates that security staff remove disruptive patrons separately, ensuring that one leaves the area before the next is removed. It also requires illegal contraband to be removed from patrons and turned over to police.

DEBATE AND DEFINITIONS

Most of the debate concerned how to identify businesses that would be subjected to the new law, and how the city would enforce the regulations.

Carruthers said last week that city staff had identified 28 businesses subjected to the new ordinance, but the validity of that list was questioned. In an email viewed by YES! Weekly on Tuesday, police attorney Jim Clark said the scope was still being worked out.

“Legal/Planning/GPD is working on a list of affected locations now,” Clark wrote in an email. “It’s not complete yet. Several things must be crosschecked before this list is complete. As soon as it’s ready, I’ll make sure it get’s circulated to you. For now, it’s estimated to contain about 28 locations.

Calculating the exemptions is the process I’m working on now.”

During the council discussion, Carruthers said that any club subjected to the ordinance could appeal to the board of adjustments. If the appeal failed, the venue would have 14 days to comply. It would take that long for security staff to complete 16-hour courses required by the new law, Carruthers said.

“We believe this is an appropriate response to the problem that we have had with violence, that is in some way linked to these clubs,” Carruthers said. “We feel this is a measured response and a specific response to direction from council.”

Clubs in existence for more than three years with no reported incidents of violence would be exempted from the rules, but all new clubs would have to comply until a three-year history had been documented.

Council member Sharon Hightower asked if the clubs would be penalized for acts of violence that occur in the parking lot, or nearby after patrons had left the facility. That was the case in the Lewis and Elm street violence in November. Patrons from separate clubs clashed over a minor traffic dispute, witnesses said, before shots were fired.

“One of the purposes of this ordinance is to require an adequate number of uniformed security with firearms outside the club, visible within 150 feet,” Carruthers said. “This is to hopefully deter acts of violence through the show of proper regulations of these clubs and the immediate area around them.”

Several council members admitted the ordinance wasn’t perfect, but expressed support for the effort to improve the perception of safety downtown. Council member Zack Matheny said it was past time for nightclubs in Greensboro to bear the cost of required security.

Matheny noted that Police Chief Anita Holder said at a recent meeting that the department took four officers away from other patrol duties in order to increase downtown police presence.

“I think all of us should have a problem with that,” Matheny said. “We’re taking men and women off the street, throughout the city, to put them in front of nightclubs so that everyone else can be safe. It’s time the nightclubs provide their own security so we can make sure the men and women we have are where they need to be, on patrol.”

Abuzuaiter said she had reservations about rushing to pass the new regulations, she described the ordinance as a “knee-jerk reaction to something that has happened.” Without thinking the ordinance through, and getting input from those potentially affected by the new law, its effectiveness was unclear.

“I have a concern about passing something that we may regret later and puts an extra burden where it doesn’t’ need to be put,” Abuzuaiter said.

After significant back and forth over how and when council could adjust the regulations, Council member Mike Barber noted that since the city chose to use its regulatory power, as opposed to zoning, it could be changed at will.

“I credit this council, in our first year of being together, I think we move pretty swiftly,” Barber said. “I think that’s a good thing for the city.”

EXEMPTIONS AND ENFORCEMENT

The council debated at length the issue of new businesses being subjected to the regulations, with Council member Tony Wilkins urging their exemption. But several members of the council noted the habit of some businesses shutting down only to change names or put straw owners in place.

Hightower said she knew of a business that had some trouble in one of their parking lots, only to cover it up. Now they’ve opened a new business downtown, she said.

“This particular entity, in my opinion, shouldn’t have opened another business because they had a really tragic situation happen. The shut it down and moved downtown.”

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said this was a reason why new businesses should be regulated according to the new rules.

“It’s less expensive to rename yourself than it is to live up to the consequences of bad behavior,” Vaughan said.

Only one club owner, Thurston Reeder, spoke to council during the two debates regarding the new regulations. But other club owners have strong feelings about the new rules.

Kenny Efird, who has operated Greene Street for 14 years in Downtown Greensboro, said he was all in favor of increased safety but felt the list of clubs subject to the new rules was incomplete. He said any bar that served alcohol until 2 a.m. should be regulated, no matter their size or if they serve food.

“Picking and choosing who’s exempt and who is not isn’t right,” Efird said. “We should all be playing from the same level field. ” Efird said he had just received a copy of the ordinance. He said most club owners declined to participate in the debate because they feel the council fails to take their views into account.

“We’ve never been heard anyway.

They’ve never really taken us into consideration,” he said.

Greene Street should be exempted from the rules, he said, because they haven’t had any reported aggravated assaults. Efird said Downtown Greensboro was a safe place, given the number of people who flock to the clubs.

“I don’t know any city that doesn’t have issues like that. Then again I don’t see these other cities doing knee-jerk reactions and putting ordinances in place without thinking through it.” !

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