Debate Forum, 05/21

Debate Forum, 05/21

Debate Forum Center: Club owners feeling the heat about late-night violence

By Alex Culpepper

Dayton residents Charles W. Bell III and Keenan Hall made the news recently, but it’s the news no one likes to hear. They were killed in a late-night shootout in the parking lot of Heat nightclub in Huber Heights. Because of that tragedy, the nightclub as well is dealing with its share of publicity, but that is nothing new for Heat. Huber Heights city officials have been trying to shut down the bar for some time because of repeated disturbances warranting police intervention. Heat’s liquor license has been under scrutiny lately, but earlier this month they won a court case in which the Ohio Liquor Control Commission granted a renewal of Heat’s liquor license.

Heat is not alone in its plight to implement damage control. Other area nightclubs have had their share of incidents, most notably at Vault late in 2012 and at Envy Lounge in 2011, resulting in fights and shooting deaths. Police have been called to a few other area clubs for similar disturbances, and these places faced challenges to their liquor licenses as well. Recently, a judge ordered Heat to be shut down until further legal actions can take place, and that leaves Heat’s future in limbo and gives people time to debate the issue of nightclub-related violence.

Nightclub owners, managers and supporters condemn the violence and other illegal activities taking place on their properties and within the vicinity, but they claim they cannot be held responsible for the actions of patrons once they leave a club. In the case of Heat, the manager claims she has done nothing wrong, the state has sided with her and she believes her club should not have to suffer what she terms the city’s harassment and bullying.

Opponents argue that problems created by patrons are indeed a club owner’s and manager’s problems because of the environment created by the club and the violence it attracts. Opponents cite reports of violent crimes, fights and weapons violations are common where these clubs operate, making these areas unsafe because of too many disturbances and altercations. Opponents also note problems at these clubs drain resources in the police department and leave other neighborhoods vulnerable.

The most high profile case right now is with Heat, and the club’s fate is a mystery until the owner and the city of Huber Heights go before a judge in an injunction hearing May 28. Supporters will gather to make a case that nightclubs cannot be responsible for patrons’ actions once they leave a club, especially if the club’s owners and workers have broken no laws. Opponents will argue repeated violence and other illegal and nuisance acts degrade the community and make it unsafe.

Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at AlexCulpepper@DaytonCityPaper.com

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Are nightclubs that serve alcohol getting a bum rap for appearing to be associated with gun violence as has recently been the case at Heat in Huber Heights and Vault and Envy Lounge in Downtown Dayton? Further, should Ohio liquor law be changed to require weapons entry prevention by incorporating active processes such as metal detectors instead of the current passive “no weapons permitted” door stickers?

Debate Left: You can’t have your booze and drink it, too

By Ben Tompkins

We live in a civilized society.

A civilized society can exist because members of our species conduct themselves with social and personal inhibitions like conflict avoidance, verbal etiquette, common sense, respect of individual solidarity and risk aversion.

Consumption of ethanol results in a mild to delightful sensation but also results in psychoactive changes to our central nervous system that diminish our inhibitions and situational judgment.

This diminishment, although occurring for different reasons, is identical to sleep deprivation. However, sleep deprivation does not result in a mild to delightful sensation. It results in violent, irrational hatred. From my wife. Towards me.

A civilized society is more difficult to maintain when members of our species consume alcohol and stay out late because they conduct themselves with a woefully inadequate level of personal inhibitions like conflict avoidance, verbal etiquette, common sense, respect of individual solidarity and risk aversion.

This results in an uncivilized society.

I do not see how we can be so arrogant as to pretend that places like Heat shouldn’t exist. And by “shouldn’t exist,” I don’t mean to say that they should not be allowed to exist. I mean that any thinking person should look at the circumstances we allow to exist and logically conclude that it is inevitable that a place like Heat will exist.

It’s silly, actually, to vilify Heat as if it is a singularity, rather than a symptom of these conditions. There is a slice of the population that wishes to overindulge and stay out late, and as a result it is guaranteed there will be more people in hospitals. Sure, take away Heat’s liquor license and it will close, but it’s delusional to believe that the wolves who frequent Heat will simply tuck their tails between their legs and slink back to their dens at 9:30 on a Saturday night with a newfound sense of social temperance.

By taking Heat’s – or any other nightclub’s – liquor license away purely because of the behavior of their clientele is to pull the sheep’s wool over our eyes and pretend that because the wolf isn’t in the midst of the flock he isn’t there any more. If Heat happened to be a nightclub like most nightclubs where people are happily partying and dancing until 2 a.m., we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Unfortunately for Heat’s owners, drunks, gangbangers and the dregs will always find a place to rage, and Heat seems to be their locale of choice right now. Do I think that the owners of Heat want them there as opposed to a crowd of college students? Hell no. I’m betting they want to run a fun place, make their money and carry on with life without being in the newspapers four times a year. However, the only thing that will shut them down faster than a shooting is kicking out the only paying customers who show up before they walk in the door.

Of course, if they are violating laws like serving alcohol to minors, then I absolutely think they should lose their liquor license. Mike Bly, a city representative, said of Heat: “It’s hard for a uniformed officer to go into an establishment and find active liquor violations. If the liquor control investigative unit goes in there as an undercover operation, I believe they’d see flagrant violations of the liquor control law.”

Great. Then … do it. If they are breaking the law, shut them down. However, if you don’t find any violations, I’m afraid you have to shut your mouth. We allow people the freedom to create the particular set circumstances that exist at nightclubs, which tend to lead to a breakdown of civility and do so without ascribing preemptive responsibility to the owners and patrons. Heat’s patrons seem to break down quicker than average. This is absolutely to be expected somewhere in a permissive society where we don’t treat individuals differently under the law.

The bottom line is, our world has places where bad things are more likely to happen. We look both ways before we cross the road. We don’t walk around alone at night. We stay out of certain parts of town. The law isn’t a force field; it’s an expectation of conduct that exists in varying degrees in various places. Personally, I don’t go to nightclubs. I drink in moderation, and if I’m at a bar and there’s trouble, I pay my tab and leave. I suggest you do the same, because just like in the boxing ring, you have the final responsibility of protecting yourself at all times.

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tompkins at BenTompkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Right: Should Ohio law require nightclub and bar owners to install metal detectors?

By Dave Landon

Last week, a series of gunshots rang out in the early morning hours in the parking lot of what some have described as a “troubled” Huber Heights bar. When the smoke cleared there was one individual dead and two seriously wounded, one of whom later succumbed from his wounds. The Heat Nightclub, which only opened its doors in November 2010, has been the subject of community concern almost from the time it served its first drink. In July 2011, a 24-year-old club patron was shot in the club parking lot. The club has faced increasing opposition by the City of Huber Heights, which has attempted to close the club for over a year. After last week’s shooting, the city went to court to accomplish what they have been unable to convince the Ohio Liquor Commission to do: close the Heat Nightclub.

As the legal system becomes involved in Heat Nightclub’s future, it has been suggested that there should be legislation by the State of Ohio that requires bars and nightclubs to invest in metal detectors and other security systems in an effort to keep guns out of these drinking establishments. This is a typical one-size-fits-all kneejerk reaction and one more attempt to saddle business with unnecessary regulations. These nightclubs and bars have huge capital investments. It’s in their interest to keep their patrons safe from harm. Many of them have already made the calculated business decision to invest in metal detectors and other security systems, such as video surveillance, in order to protect their investments. What they really don’t need is for government to give them one more regulation that may not be necessary.

In the case of the Huber Heights nightclub, there was a metal detector in place in an effort to keep guns out of the nightclub. The violence that took place occurred in the parking lot as the trouble, which evidently started in the bar, spilled outside. The issue of violence at some of these clubs cannot be solved by mandating metal detectors at the front door. There is usually an issue of poor management when a club has a continuing need to call 911 to bring in the local police to break-up fights and disruptive behavior.

What must be kept in mind is that the last thing a club owner wants is to involve the local police as peace keepers. Every emergency run by the police to a club goes against the club’s record for their annual license renewal with the Ohio Department of Liquor Control. As a result, there is a reluctance to call the police when trouble starts inside the club. Instead, there is initially an attempt to handle the matter in-house. This is where club management either is successful, or as in the case of the Heat Nightclub, comes up short. Having top-notch personnel with the skills to defuse a volatile situation is how a nightclub stays in business. It’s more critical than metal detectors or cameras. Simply ushering the combatants out into the parking lot doesn’t solve the problem and certainly doesn’t protect your liquor license. The gun-free nightclub can’t ensure a gun-free parking lot.

If one were to survey which clubs create the most police calls, it would be clubs that cater to younger crowds, hands down. One study suggested that music with a pounding beat may “be a risk factor since it frequently creates an atmosphere of intense physical activity.” Young people, who are inexperienced drinkers, and who believe themselves to be invulnerable, are sometimes caught up in the energy created in such an atmosphere. However, make no mistake, violence can occur at any club genre: country, college bar, techno or hip-hop.

The standard of care for most bars and clubs, locally and across the country, is one of “reasonable care” based on the nature and location of each individual establishment, and the reasonably foreseeable risks of each establishment. Of course, Mayor Bloomberg’s New York City has set guidelines, because that’s what Mayor Bloomberg does, as to what security measures including metal detectors and how many security personnel are required for each establishment. There are also some cities in England that tightly regulate the safety requirements of the local clubs. These are measures which a club owner already knows whether or not are necessary for their establishment. For many clubs and bars the measures are unnecessary and will drive up the cost of doing business. The regulations in one English city go so far as to dictate the number of cameras a club must operate.

Most owners of bars and nightclubs have the goal of providing a safe and hospitable establishment where patrons can gather for a good time while enjoying an adult beverage. Slamming these small businesses with more regulations is not the most effective means to ensure the safety of the patrons of these establishments.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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