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Clubs, bars must share detail costs

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A new policy for paid police details at bars and nightclubs will require those establishments to hire only one officer but share the cost of a sergeant to supervise the details.

The new policy has been in the works for nine months as the department consulted with other city departments on the legal and logistical aspects of enacting it.

Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said the new policy, which begins Aug. 14, will help keep officers and the community safe. He said liability was a major issue in revamping the bar detail policy.

A bar or club may pay a couple of hundred dollars for one police officer to work a detail for four hours, but the city can face hundreds of thousands of dollars in liability if the officer has to use force to subdue an unruly patron and/or is injured while doing so, the chief said yesterday. The new policy should address that issue as well, he said.

"Think about it from this perspective; an officer is hired for $200 and the bar gets the officer, but the city has the liability if the officer is sued or if the officer is injured," Chief Gemme said. "There is much more liability for the city than there is on the bar owner."

If a bar or club, where liquor is served, chooses to have a police detail, the owners only have to hire one officer. It is not mandatory to have any officers at all, the chief said. The new policy has the bars or clubs pay the cost of having a supervising sergeant on duty to check on the officers and be ready to help if they need assistance. The chief said the sergeant would be mobile.

The cost of one paid detail officer is $200 and the cost of a supervising sergeant is $212.34 for the four hours. The cost of the sergeant will be shared among the number of bars and nightclubs that have a paid detail on a specific night.

In his letter to bar and nightclub owners, the chief stated that if 25 officers are assigned details on one particular night - the 25 businesses would each pay 1/25 of the cost for the supervisor. If there are 25 officers and one establishment with two officers, it would result in the business paying 2/25 and three officers would result in a payment of 3/25.

The new policy comes at a time when Chief Gemme was criticized by City Councilor Michael J. Germain about the paid detail policy put in place about a month ago that requires bars and nightclubs that want a police detail to hire two officers - a cost of $400 for four hours. In an e-mail to then-acting City Manager Julie Jacobson - who told councilors about the policy - Mr. Germain responded, "I have to say that I absolutely will not support such a knee-jerk reaction. Putting numerous small businesses out of business is not the answer. Worse now is these businesses won't put any details on and we put the public at risk."

The chief said yesterday that when his department noticed a spike in assaults and other crime around bars in May, June and July, and when he found officers had to strike people with their batons while at bar details in the first weekends of July - a new policy was needed for safety reasons. He did that while the policy announced yesterday was still being crafted.

"We looked at the data and what was taking place and we knew we had to make a decision," he said. "The decision behind the two police officers working the bar details together was for officer safety first and foremost."

Before the two-officer policy, there were 26 bars/nightclubs that had officer details. That number dropped to 17 after the policy was enacted in mid-July.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Germain said he believes the other bars will come back now with the newest policy in place within a couple of weeks.

"I think at the end of the day this will work out well for everyone - businesses, police security and public safety," he said. "This seems to be a fair compromise in my opinion and you will find the establishments will find this fair now."

Several establishments called the councilor and said they couldn't afford the two officers. He called paying a shared cost for a supervisor a fair expense that also helps the city with liability issues.

City Manager Michael V. O'Brien has sent out information on the new policy to all the councilors. He said yesterday in an interview that the city was responsible for indirect costs when an officer was on a paid bar detail. Medical costs, loss of an officer because of an injury and other issues were all being borne by the city.

He added the Operations Division night shift commander was also responsible for responding, but that supervisor had the nightly city calls to handle first.

"Public and officer safety must be priority number one. This policy reinforces our priority while also mitigating the indirect expenses to the city taxpayer and the actual costs that we must pass along to these establishments," Mr. O'Brien said. "This was a challenging effort and I believe the delicate balance required has been achieved."

Chief Gemme said since Jan. 1, four out of the nine times an officer had to strike someone with a service baton it was at a bar or alcohol-serving establishment. In July, officers on two different occasions had to defend themselves with their baton and accidentally struck a person on the head during a struggle. Striking someone in the head is not authorized, but it occurred during the struggle, he said.

"It is a concern both from an administrative perspective and you are concerned about the safety of the officers," Chief Gemme said. "Clearly when someone is struck in the head there's potential liability that's involved also."

One of the officers involved in one of the July incidents received face and head injuries serious enough to put him out of work, leaving the city paying for medical bills and the cost to fill his shift, Chief Gemme said.

Since 2006, the city has paid out $300,000 in settlements because of incidents that were directly or indirectly related to bar details. Chief Gemme said one of the problems was the bar details did not have any supervision.

"I felt we were completely vulnerable in terms of bar details because of lack of supervision," he said. "This policy will now allow us to address our supervision and police officer safety."

The officers on bar details will be able to call for assistance and also tell the supervisor if one officer is not enough because a bar/nightclub is too rowdy or troublesome. A recommendation that another officer be added could be made, but the chief said his department would work with establishment owners to fix the problems.

A high percentage of serious crimes - shootings, stabbings and assaults - occurs in the city from midnight to 5 a.m. The chief keeps the Anti-Crime Team out until 4 a.m. - at a cost of $132,000 annually - and also has the Summer Impact Unit out now for a few days a week until 2 a.m. - at a cost of $500,000 annually.

"It is a different city after midnight," the chief said.

Zombie Hunter
4,815 Posts
I'm surprised the Chief didn't authorize flagmen at the city bars.
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