N.Y.P.D. backs laws to crack down on bars

By Albert Amateau

The Police Department went to the City Council on Feb. 13 to support bills to give the department’s Civil Enforcement Unit expanded powers under the Nuisance Abatement Law to close businesses where violent crimes have occurred and to close businesses that sell false I.D.’s.

Intro. 515 would allow authorities to go to court for Nuisance Abatement orders to closed establishments — bars, clubs and lounges are the obvious targets — where two or more charges of murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide or three or more charges of felony assault were made in a 12-month period.

Intro. 484 would allow law enforcement agencies to seek closing orders for locations charged with making or selling false I.D.’s.

The new efforts come in response to two well-publicized criminal deaths involving Manhattan bars last year. In February Imette St. Guillen, a John Jay College graduate student last seen at The Falls, a bar on Lafayette St., was brutally murdered and a bouncer at the bar is charged. Underage bar patrons using false I.D.’s have also been in the public eye. Last July an 18-year-old girl who spent a night drinking in West Side lounges was murdered after she was picked up drunk on the West Side Highway.

Currently, the Nuisance Abatement Law allows authorities to proceed against establishments that “endanger public health and safety” with repeated illegal drug sales, prostitution, gambling and illegal social clubs. The law, known when it was first enacted as “The Bawdy House Law,” may also be used to proceed against premises that habitually violate building, health and zoning codes.

“We seek to bring a stop to criminal and dangerous public nuisances,” Assistant Police Commission for Civil Enforcement Robert Messner said regarding the expansion of Nuisance Abatement.

But David Rabin, owner of Lotus, a club on W. 14th St., and president of the New York Nightlife Association, said the expansion of the Nuisance Abatement law is troubling.

“It’s hard to argue that a venue where murder and other violent crime has been committed shouldn’t be closed, but these instances are charges not convictions, and the proceedings are ex parte,” he said in a telephone interview. Ex parte means the city can go to court to close a place without the owner participating in the proceeding, although the owner and any tenant involved is entitled to a hearing within three days of the closing.

A spokesperson for Councilmember Alan Gerson said the two bills would not be formally introduced in the Council for a month because the mayor’s office and members of the Council’s Public Safety Committee were still working on the language.

Rabin said the police have been using Nuisance Abatement selectively. “Madison Sq. Garden and Yankee Stadium have fights all the time and they have the same liquor license that we do,” he said. “Yet the police don’t try to close them but they proceed against a club that has a capacity of five or six hundred.”

Rabin noted that Nuisance Abatement closings often come on a Friday night and before a three-day weekend, meaning that an owner doesn’t really have an opportunity to respond within the statutory three days.

Rabin said that no closings should be made solely on the application of the government. “If a club is operating under best practices, police should come to us and say there is a problem and give us a chance to fix it,” he said.

But Messner said, “Nuisance Abatement is a serious remedy for serious problems and we believe no problem merits attention more than violence causing serious injury or death.” He noted that law enforcement agencies are required to show a judge com­pelling evidence that a venue has been a continuous danger for a year.

In a Nuisance Abatement action that temporarily closed Crobar in Chelsea at the beginning of this year, police cited 15 narcotics violations and 22 State Liquor Authority violations in the previous 12 months.