The Dayton Police Department is making downtown safety a priority with their Bar Safe program
By Tim Walker
You’re in downtown Dayton. It’s after dark. And you’re safe.
To reiterate, you are in no particular danger if you choose to go out in Dayton, Ohio after the sun goes down. You, the consumer — whether a visitor or a local resident — have the right to feel relaxed and comfortable if you go out at night and visit the businesses and nightclubs that are located near our downtown area.
An evening out on the town in Dayton can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people: to get out and see your neighbors, to be a part of a vibrant community, a chance to take part in our local culture, to be a patron of Dayton’s thriving arts community. A wide selection of destinations make themselves available to you — places to dance, dine, drink, listen to live music or just relax and talk with old friends, or make some new ones. Use a little common sense, make good choices and the chances are very good that you’re not going to wind up on the news the next day, after getting mugged, or robbed, or beaten or shot.
The odds are in your favor, after all: According to statistics recently released by the City of Dayton Police Department (Dayton PD), incidents of violent crime downtown have dropped by 18 percent over the last year, and by a whopping 30 percent during the last 10 years. Incidents of overall crime downtown have dropped by 24 percent over that same 10-year period.
The choices you make can, of course, have a lot to do with whether or not your trip downtown winds up being a good or bad experience, and informed consumers tend to make better choices than uninformed ones, as a rule. Therefore, logic dictates that an informed consumer, one who wishes to visit downtown, would choose to spend money at establishments that take seriously their responsibility to their own customers, and who go out of their way to provide pleasant, comfortable, and, above all, safe environments for their patrons. You wouldn’t want to dine in a restaurant that doesn’t place a high priority on cleanliness, after all, out of concern for your safety. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to patronize a nightclub that doesn’t place a high priority on security.
During the night of Sept. 23, 2011, there were two separate shooting incidents involving nightclubs located downtown. The two shootings received a great deal of media attention, and the publicity has helped to reinforce the erroneous idea that you’re taking your life into your hands if you venture into downtown after dark. One shooting, which took place outside the A-List Lounge at 212 S. Ludlow St., resulted in the tragic death of Kordero Hunter, a 21-year-old Central State University student and football player. Jason Shern, 30, was indicted on October 7 on multiple charges related to the shooting, including one count of murder, three counts of felonious assault, one count of having a weapon under disability and one count of discharging a firearm on prohibited premises. Not only was Hunter killed, but a number of bystanders were also injured when Shern discharged the weapon outside the A-List Lounge that night, according to prosecutors. Hunter had been a passenger on one of several buses that had brought students from Central State to the club that night for a special event.
That same night, a fight inside the Hammerjax nightclub, located at 111 E. Fourth St., led to a shooting in the 100 block of N. Jefferson Street nearby. The victim, who was shot in the leg, is expected to recover.
Both bars have been the sites of additional shootings over the past year, with a shooting in January at Hammerjax sending 22-year-old James Hall to the hospital with four separate gunshot wounds. A shooting outside A-List Lounge on July 5 left 21-year-old Jamahl Moore with an incredible 13 gunshot wounds. Dayton homicide Sgt. Gary White was quoted as saying, “It’s a miracle he survived.”
Two nightclubs, located a few blocks from each other, both downtown. The A-List Lounge is no longer open for business, with the owners evidently deciding to close not long after the recent shooting death. Multiple attempts to reach the owners and manager of the establishment were unsuccessful, as were multiple attempts to reach the management of Hammerjax.
Hammerjax, however, is still operating, unlike A-List Lounge — at least for now. On September 29, six days after the two shootings, John J. Danish, Dayton’s city attorney, filed a complaint in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court on behalf of the City of Dayton against Hammerjax, manager Jerry Booher and owner Roger Dixon, seeking to have the bar legally declared a public nuisance. The complaint states, in part, that “Hammerjax has created and maintained a public nuisance by operating a bar and nightclub in ways that unreasonably interfere with the public health, welfare and safety…” and that “Hammerjax refuses to stop using special event promoters that result in overcapacity and overcrowding issues, large fights and disturbances, and an increased call load for the Dayton Police Department.”
There were 193 calls to the Dayton Police for Hammerjax during the period of January 2009 to September 2011. This may not seem like a large amount of police calls to a busy nightclub for a period of 33 months, but keep in mind that Hammerjax is only open from 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. three nights per week on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
One contributing factor in the city’s decision to try and have Hammerjax declared a public nuisance may be the nightclub’s consistent refusal to participate in the Dayton PD’s Bar Safe program. Created to help serve local liquor permit holders, to help their establishments maintain safe environments for patrons, and to reduce the drain on community resources that poorly-managed nightclubs can cause, the Dayton PD initiated the Bar Safe program in 2009. Hammerjax chooses not to participate in the program. The now-defunct A-List Lounge, which did send representatives to the initial training class, failed to implement procedures that were recommended by the police to make the club safer.
The Bar Safe program begins with the nightclub owner and staff registering for the class then attending a day-long seminar featuring various instructive modules, each of which is geared toward educating the employees on various safety practices and procedures, such as the proper procedure for reducing the number of fights and other altercations, the negative aspects of serving customers too much alcohol, how the DJ can help to maintain order through proper music selection, and other topics. A wealth of data is tracked on a daily basis by the police for each area liquor permit holder, and the statistics overwhelmingly support the fact that the Bar Safe program reduces the amount of crime in and around area bars. The program, which has been recognized as being one of the best of its kind in the country, is administered by Dayton PD’s crime prevention officers William Parsons and Shawn Huey.
“We actually administer the program, and then try to keep tabs on whether or not they’re doing some of the things that we’re asking them to do,” said Parsons during a recent interview.
“One of our major problems in this area is the special events, where the bars bring in independent promoters,” said Parsons. “They simply don’t provide adequate security. In many cases, the bar owners just literally hand the keys over to the promoters, who have no vested interest in the liquor permit. So they’re just there to get as much cash as they can for the evening, and they end up doing some things that aren’t in the best interests of the business. They’re there to make quick cash.”
“They do whatever they want, and then they hand the keys back to the bar owner, who has to deal with the repercussions and is left holding the bag,” added Huey. “Because now it’s their liquor permit that is in danger of being taken away. In this area, we’re really on the forefront of this whole promoter thing. A promoter acting the way they do is very unique for our area. It’s not like that in Miami and places like that that we’ve talked to. A promoter there is strictly and solely for the entertainment. They bring in entertainment acts, they take care of the entertainment, and that’s it. They may be involved with the promotion or whatever, but that’s it.”
“They don’t actually run the door or work the bar, or have any hand in any of the aspects of running the bar that the club owner is really responsible for,” said Parsons.
“I think the reason that Dayton is different in that respect is that a lot of our club and bar owners are desperate. The promoter comes in and says this is what I’m going to give you and you don’t have to do anything,” said Huey. “I also think they (the owners) lack marketing and business skills that would tell them, ‘Hey, this is not a good business model to be following.’ They should be saying ‘Yes, you can bring your act in, but I’m running the rest of the show.’ I think any intelligent bar owner would think this is a good idea. ‘We’re going to book a big act and bring in a bunch of money. And we will pay you ‘X’ dollars for your act to come in. But everything else is ours.’”
After being asked, “Do you see this independent promoter activity as being a major contributor to the violent incidents we’ve seen over the past few years in local nightclubs?” the officers answered, “Absolutely,” without hesitation.
“The main thing is — there are other bars in the area that have all kinds of problems, bars outside of the downtown area,” said Maj. Larry Faulkner, commander of the downtown business district. “You read all the articles in the paper — and we would just go berserk. Hundreds of calls to the police. We just simply would not allow that. You cannot use all those police resources, because that costs you, me and everyone here money. Every time those police roll up, you and I are paying for this.”
The Vault is a new nightclub opening up in the next few months on Jefferson Street downtown. Owners Darryl Kinney and Jason Todd recently gave DCP a tour of the newly renovated club. In between inspections of multiple VIP areas, directions to contractors and discussions of upcoming events, they began to talk about their opinions on bar safety with their head of security.
“We want people to know they’ll be safe,” said owner Todd. “They’ll be safe when they come here. We’re going to do our best.”
“We have a very good relationship with the Dayton Police and we want to keep it that way,” said Kinney. “We’re participating in the Bar Safe program, and we want people to know we take their safety seriously.”
“We have 10 fully-trained security people on our staff,” said James Shanklin, head of security for the new club and a former employee of the Montgomery County Juvenile Court.
“I’ve participated in the Bar Safe program, and I love it. I think it’s an excellent program that teaches people about bar safety, overall bar operations, what to do and what not to do in certain situations. I encourage everybody who’s in the bar business to take part in the class.
“The key here is that any trouble spots you see, you handle with good communication skills. I want people to be handled with respect — a physical altercation is the last thing that should happen in any bar environment. Good customer service, always with a smile.”
The Vault, like the other nightclubs in Dayton who have chosen to participate in the Bar Safe program, deserves your patronage. While there are no guarantees, no magic wand that can keep everyone safe when they choose to go out for a night out downtown, informed choices on where you spend your time (and your money) might just result in you getting back home safer, happier, and with the opportunity to go out and enjoy yourself again.
Bar Safe Participants
There is no question that the climate and clientele of Hammerjax and the A-List Lounge are not necessarily similar to the climate and clientele of other Dayton bars and clubs. The fact that a venue has chosen not to participate in the City of Dayton’s Bar Safe program does not in any way imply that it is unsafe. In fact, some venues may have participated in privately offered programs that are just as comprehensive as Bar Safe such as TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS) found at GetTips.com. The following is not necessarily a complete list of bars and nightclubs within the City of Dayton. However, it certainly lists the most popular and highest traffic venues. We have identified all venues and companies (such as booking agents) that have already participated or have confirmed plans to participate in the Bar Safe Program. Again, the fact that a venue has not participated in the program should not imply a lack of training or concern for patron safety.
- A-List Lounge
- Blind Bob’s
- Chris’s Band Box
- Club Vex
- Cold Beer & Cheeseburgers
- The Fieldhouse
- Good Life Entertainment
- Jazz Central
- King Brands
- Loc Nez
- MJs Café
- Ned Peppers
- Ranger Security
- Therapy Café
- Toxic Brew Company
- Trolley Stop
- The Vault
- Webster Station
Bar Safe program participation is free for permit holders. If you’re a bar or business owner interested in participating, contact Officer William Parsons or Officer Shawn Huey of the Dayton Police Department by calling (937)333-COPS.
Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.