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Friday, April 4, 2008

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

posted by on April 4 at 11:34 AM

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.

[Sic throughout]

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.

RSS icon Comments


didn't i read recently that seattle's police force is dangerously understaffed? how can they justify hassling nightclubs and bars when they don't have the officers necessary to arrest violent offenders whose victims have taken down their attackers license plates or know their addresses and have witnesses to corroborate, etc., etc.?

Posted by ellarosa | April 4, 2008 11:50 AM

Elenchos has the story.

Posted by Mr. Poe | April 4, 2008 11:51 AM

The noise stuff is what really gets me. If you're basing it on a complaint, or you have some objective measure that it's too loud, then great, do your job. But if you're just walking by the club - which is in a non-residential neighborhood - and decide it's too loud? That's ridiculous.

Posted by Levislade | April 4, 2008 11:52 AM

it's also ridiculous to suggest that the recent violent crime on the hill has any link to noise violations. in many cases, they had nothing to do with violations in night clubs.

Posted by infrequent | April 4, 2008 12:01 PM

it's all part of the new status quo. White, aging, upper middle class boomers want a safe, sorta dense, sterile, familiar, bland environment, one that is conducive to the building and renting/selling of the maximum number of residential and commercial properties. They want to make money and the aging boomers, as they retire, want to come back to the inner cities to enjoy the benefits of the aging boomer lifestyle: nice restaurants, concerts, theatre and art, (but nothing too loud or risque), sports events, pleasant evenings shopping and sipping glasses of wine and nice strolls past familiar shops of high end goods and brisk dog walks through pristine parks. They are not interested in any nightlife that might be construed as loud or raucus or might encourage the rowdy young, and especially the rowdy young of color or those noisy homos to infilitrate their newly upscaled neighborhoods and keep them awake past their 11pm bedtimes. Ideally, their neighborhood should resemble University Village.

The idea of the urban village is a good one, but sadly, what most of us don't realize, is that the urban village that most developers, city officials and the Powers That Be are interested in, is an urban village that is a suitable home for White, Upper Class people over the age of 50. The Baby Boomers have defined American culture for the last 62 years and their effects are going to be monumental and instrumental for another 30 years.

Posted by michael strangeways | April 4, 2008 12:05 PM

Cops should be required to know the correct spelling of the neighborhoods they patrol. And maybe understand the 4th Amendment.

Posted by DOUG. | April 4, 2008 12:06 PM

There might be less night time street crime if cops were more visible outside the bars and patrolling the streets rather than inside controlling noise. I know of no correlation between the decibel levels of dance music and violence.

Posted by inkweary | April 4, 2008 12:08 PM

He's covering his ass, because he, like The Stranger, is unwilling to come out and say that it's not NIGHTCLUBS that are the problem, it's HIP HOP NIGHTCLUBS.

Posted by Fnarf | April 4, 2008 12:11 PM

it gets me more upset the more i think about it. "you want to be safe, then turn that racket down."

Posted by infrequent | April 4, 2008 12:12 PM

#8: That's ridiculous. Many of Seattle's problem nightclubs are techno-exclusive. And Havana is mostly hiphop, but they have a good record and are being persecuted. Neumo's is diverse, national acts--hiphop, techno, rock and whatever else. Don't reduce this issue to something genre-related (and mildly racist). If a nightclub is the kind of place that wants trouble, it can have it no matter what kind of music it plays.

Posted by Ari Spool | April 4, 2008 12:16 PM

i think there's some truth to that, fnarf, but it's not consistent with their recent actions at moe, the wildrose and chop suey. maybe they are just hitting those clubs so they appear to be treating all clubs equally. but i do get the feeling the vision of sanitized nightlife isn't limited to removing hip hop clubs alone.

Posted by infrequent | April 4, 2008 12:17 PM

There's more to it. A staffer at a bar last week mentioned the "two cool cops" that claim their boss is pressuring them to write up clubs on the Hill. They also said that there is a female cop who has a vendetta and is trying to take over the nightclub enforcement/violation game. She will come by later in the night after the other two visit a place and try to catch violations they have missed. Sounds likely to be the same one who "forgot" her decibel meter in her locker when dealing with Chop Suey...

Posted by MP | April 4, 2008 12:39 PM

What "right" is there not to be treated like a child? Christ, everyone treats me like a child!

Posted by King Rat | April 4, 2008 12:41 PM

If your business is live music and you are constantly asked to turn the music down, and doing so alienates your customers, then eventually you will no longer be in business. Is this what the ultimate goal of the police presence is, to drive the clubs out of business? If I see uniformed police officers (I'm assuming they are in uniforms?) on several occasions at a club I'm at I begin to wonder what sort of trouble is happening there. I don't feel safer, I feel less safe and look for someplace else to go.

Posted by PopTart | April 4, 2008 12:41 PM

The issue of a vibrant nightlife is greater than just “noise’. Recently issues on Capital Hill have been crimes of violence and biased crimes.

When a Captain for the SPD misspells Capitol Hill in an e-mail, that's not a good sign. It shows a fundamental disconnect with a neighborhood he is responsible for protecting. Fucker probably lives in Renton.

Posted by Gomez | April 4, 2008 12:50 PM

You should have texted it in.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 4, 2008 1:06 PM

Gomez, half the people on this blog - many of whom live there - can't spell Capitol Hill. I agree it's ridiculous the cop can't, but I don't really think it means anything.

Posted by Levislade | April 4, 2008 1:06 PM

Well, since you don't exactly have a capitol sitting there, I'd say either use of the word is inappropriate. And for those of you who feel that bashing cops is fair game, I say walk a mile in their shoes. I have.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | April 4, 2008 1:17 PM

Fuck the police. I mean SRSLY? That reunion was nothing but a money grab. And Sting? Don't even get me started on that douchebag.

Posted by Jeff | April 4, 2008 1:19 PM

@18 so you can only criticize the police if you've been a police officer? yeah, that makes sense. do you apply that to everything? can't comment on the president if you haven't been president? comment on a movie unless you've directed one?

Posted by infrequent | April 4, 2008 1:36 PM

This captains' response sounds like the "broken windows" approach which RG popularized in NYC. The view likely is that overcrowding and noise and a lack of police presence are markers and contributing factors to a general vibe that encourages crime. While I agree that seeing cops in a bar (at all), who then use say so laws to turn down the music, is a downer that tends to drive people out, taking a purely oppositional stance (such as suggesting that the bar duty cops go fight some real crime) is not going to solve the problem of police presence putting a damper on bar activities. This attitude will only reinforce an us vs. them mentality, which further polarizes both sides. It also bespeaks a mildly class based attitude. If you want to engage the issues and not just spout outrage, you are going to have to engage the other. The bar owners, police and the bar going community need to meet together to hash out a non-confrontational approach which ensures police protection without perceived harassment. Not an easy task.

Posted by LMSW | April 4, 2008 1:36 PM

and it's called "Capitol Hill". there is no debate about it. if you think it's stupid, that's fine. but that changes nothing.

Posted by infrequent | April 4, 2008 1:45 PM

fnarf - sometimes you are so out of touch. Neumo's did 5 nights of sold out hip hop shows in a row in December - no violence. They do hip hop shows often, no violence. So do Chop Suey, Showbox, Vera, and still no violence.

Some nightclub promoters promote to gang members. Sometimes at those clubs there is hip hop playing - but more often it's top 40, which includes hip hop because, well, it's the most popular music in the world.

Get out a little.

Posted by Meinert | April 4, 2008 2:21 PM

i think meinert and fnarf actually agree on this one. meinert's definition is just a little more focused. both of you acknowledge that is it a certain type of club that causes problems. usually these clubs are easy to identify. unfortunately, the police seem to focus on other, more harmless clubs. given how they acted just before the nightclub ordinance went up for a vote, it's easy to see why there's some issues of distrust.

Posted by infrequent | April 4, 2008 2:53 PM

Hey whitey @8: The Moore just had a hip-hop show last night, too. Shut it down? Or should we wait until AFTER the Ray Romano show on Monday?

Posted by frederick r | April 4, 2008 5:29 PM

"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)" me crazy, but I don't get it. Why exactly was this club "out of place"? If I remember correctly, Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood has a history of being inclusive of all "crowds"! Once again, flatulent hipsters at the stranger trying to impose their brand of "cool" on the whole of Cap. Hill...Get out of town

Posted by Quinlan | April 7, 2008 3:16 AM

@26. violent crowds are out of place on capitol hill.

Posted by infrequent | April 7, 2008 9:17 AM

or at least should be.

Posted by infrequent | April 7, 2008 9:17 AM

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