City Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should
posted by April 4 at 11:34 AMon
The cops weren’t being very helpful when I called them for my story on nightlife-related noise this week. When I originally contacted their press office to ask for their police report about the noise complaint on Chop Suey on March 27th, the woman who answered the phone laughed at me. And she never called back with the report.
So I enlisted Jonah to help me squeeze some info out of them about the recent reported uptick in cop visits to clubs on the Pike Street strip. All they sent back was this email, from Captain Paul McDonagh, which didn’t really explain anything.
The issue of a vibrant nightlife is greater than just “noise’. Recently issues on Capital Hill have been crimes of violence and biased crimes. Although recent information indicates both are down, due to the activity I tasked East Precinct officers with pro-active police enforcement surrounding nightlife, and crimes of violence, on Capital Hill. Yes, noise complaints are part of that, but so are preventing assaults & thefts to parking complaints and pedestrian safety.
You asked why officers are “regularly” seen in establishments serving liquor. The fact is SPD should be in the establishments checking with owners and looking for issues or violations. I expect my officers to be doing exactly that, at my request. Most establishments that serve liquor have incidents requiring police response and often police action. People celebrate where they feel safe. As neighbors within a small and diverse community our experience within SPD is most establishments work with the police to ensure a safe and therefore long-term profitable business. Capital Hill worked very hard over the years to ensure that everyone is safe when living or visiting the nightlife on Capital Hill. Recent events are not the norm for Capital Hill and should not be allowed to define the community. SPD is taking steps to prevent such action in the future.
So Yes, officers can and will continue to check-in on liquor establishments on the hill. Smaller entertainment venues claim SPD only checks them, while larger venues claim we monitor only them and not the smaller venues. I can assure you SPD visits all types of venues, each work shift. These visits include checking for over occupancy, over service or under age service and may include noise level reading. SPD will continue to work with the Washington State Liquor Control Board to ensure liquor code compliance for all establishments.
He spends the rest of the letter explaining how he already told everyone at “Moe’s” all of this months ago, at a meeting that I should have attended because it was very popular (75 attendees!). Sorry—that doesn’t eradicate my right to ask you questions without being treated like a child. What if I was a bar employee who was working that night? Do I no longer have the right to ask you what you’re up to in my place of employment?
He has some points—yes, incidents of violence happened and are unusual and upsetting for Capitol Hill, especially hate crime stuff; yes, a pro-active police force is necessary to prevent crime.
However, there are several things wrong with SPD’s response. First, let’s think hard about the newsworthy recent crimes on Capitol Hill, and their causes. The shooting at Sugar, which resulted in that out-of-place nightclub closing its doors (and therefore, no longer attracting that out-of-place crowd). The stabbing of Shannon Harps, which was committed by a man who had been failed by the social services he needed to help control his mental illness. The face-punching and subsequent coma of Joseph Skillings, probably committed by someone in the same situation as Harps’ murderer. What do these crimes have to do with nightclubs being too loud, or over-occupancy violations? Why is that a pressing issue of public safety?
He seems to be saying: Why should you even care about cops being in your places of recreation? Do you have something to hide in there? We’re just poking our head in and watching you, no big deal!
That’s not the kind of society we live in, thank you very much. Just because I’m not doing anything wrong in a bar doesn’t mean I want a cop watching me do it, which is why these business are so upset about the constant police presence. Neumo’s, Chop Suey, Havana, the Comet, and the Wildrose (all bars that have contacted me about their police presence getting out of hand) are working businesses owned by professionals who don’t want the cops on their back. Remember the Mayor’s “Operation Sobering Thought,” where police tried to catch bars breaking the rules? The only bar on Capitol Hill they focused on was Sugar, which of course no longer exists. (Not to mention that all of those arrests are being overturned.) This isn’t Pioneer Square, or Belltown—there aren’t brawls on Pike Street when the bars let out.
And, honestly, go back and re-read Jonah’s story from last week. The cops are strapped. I’d rather have those two cops on bar tour duty (Hi, O’Neill and Gallagher!) out tracking down stolen cars and other real crime instead of shushing the vibrant nightlife of Pike Street.