Remember all those news stories about the downtown club scene over the past few years?
Shootings. Stabbings. Riots. Solemn proclamations that hip-hop music makes people go crazy and shoot other people. Surely you remember.
Well, here's something you may not recall — the absence of those stories this summer. There has been virtually no news from downtown clubs for months. With little fanfare, police, club owners and the military have tightened security in the city's core — and it's likely to get even tighter.
Colorado Springs Police Sgt. Jeff Strossner, of the Gold Hill Division, sees a stark contrast between summer 2009 and summer 2010. During the "prime time" for crime downtown — April 18 to Sept. 18, Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. — overall calls for service decreased 18 percent from last summer. Over the summer a year ago, 14 weapons calls resulted in eight case reports. This summer, there were nine weapons calls, and only two case reports.
Plus, Strossner says, "We haven't had a shooting downtown in the clubs all summer."
Says Ron Butlin, head of the Downtown Partnership, a onetime club critic: "The clubs should be proud and the P.D. should be proud."
Here's why: Two dedicated police officers are now assigned to patrol the club scene. The military also sends out patrols to keep out-on-the-town soldiers under control.
Meanwhile, owners of more than a dozen clubs and bars have banded together with police and the Downtown Partnership to form the Downtown Premier Partners. Looking at best practices to help make the scene safer and better, the clubs have agreed to a unified conduct code ("visibly intoxicated patrons will not be permitted," "no weapons," etc.) and stipulated that violation could result in expulsion from all downtown establishments.
Now, SODO night club owner John Gowing is leading the way on a new safety initiative by installing an Internet-based ID scanner and photo-capture system that will log the name, age and photo of every person who enters his club to a secure, private server (no other personal information is stored). If a person gets kicked out or 86ed, the system will remember. If a person commits a crime caught on security cameras in the clubs, police can subpoena the list and get the information on the suspect.
Butlin and Gowing say nine other clubs and bars are looking at installing the system, including big establishments like the Mansion and Cowboys, and smaller bars like Tony's. If they do, info about troublemakers will be shared instantaneously. (Details on other patrons will not be shared.)
Get 86ed from Tony's for punching its owner in the nose? The bouncer at Oscar's Tejon Street will know about it before you walk in the door.
Bars are not mandated to deny patrons who've been kicked out of other bars, but if the infraction is serious enough, there's a good chance they will. SODO's Gowing says he wants customers to know: "It's safe here."
Oscar's owner Phil Duhon says he plans to install the system (which costs under $1,000, plus a small monthly fee) as soon as a few other clubs join.
"I think initially it will probably offend some patrons," Duhon predicts. "But — and this is important — it's to protect the patrons."