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Our Opinion: New nightlife rules?

Our Opinion: New nightlife rules?

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In an effort to address a troubling surge in violent crimes, city leaders are considering a new safety ordinance for nightclubs and restaurants.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been there and done that before. Or something very much like it.

Several years ago the City Council passed and then reconsidered an ordinance for nightclubs that established requirements for security personnel, based on capacity, as well as other safety protocols.

There had been a spate of fatal shootings and other incidents in or near nightclubs throughout the city, including a pair of harrowing shootouts in downtown Greensboro.

But after complaints from the club owners, the ordinance was abandoned.

More on that later.

The latest proposal would differ from what was tried before in that it would apply only to bars and restaurants that serve alcohol or allow alcohol to be consumed onsite and that have experienced a “serious” incident. (The previous ordinance applied to most nightclubs.)

The proposed law defines “serious” as a murder, second-degree murder or aggravated assault that involves hospitalization.

Such businesses would be required to devise security plans for city approval.

The plan might require an establishment to remain closed until its security plan is approved, probably by the police department.

The idea has arisen in the aftermath of a deeply troubling spike in violent crimes in the city. Greensboro experienced 61 homicides in 2020, an all-time record.

Four of those killings, Police Chief Brian James says, occurred in businesses that serve alcohol.

The concept is still in its formative stages, but it instantly raises several questions.

Does four incidents out of 61 merit such a change?

Is there a pattern in the incidents that suggests security would have made a difference in preventing the violence? For instance, would screening for weapons at the door have made a difference? And how much of a factor was alcohol in those incidents?

And if the idea is to save lives, is a punitive approach really the best one? Would a preventive approach make better sense?

The 2014 ordinance for nightclubs applied to most such businesses and covered some practical protocols that would have addressed some of the conditions that helped to provoke violent confrontations.

It also wasn’t a one-size-fits-all model. It allowed for some flexibility based on each business’ record of violent incidents. And it included incentives for good behavior.

If it had stayed active, it would have …

  • Allowed small nightclubs without a history of violence to be required to hire unarmed security guards rather than armed ones.
  • Exempted clubs that had operated without a violent incident for 18 months.
  • Established an appeals process for club owners.

Even so, the council placed a moratorium on the ordinance in late 2014 and never ended it.

There’s a lesson in that.

And maybe the council has learned it. It will not rush into this matter without more study and input, as some accused it of doing before. In particular, the council will seek feedback from nightclub and restaurant owners.

It also should study best practices from other cities that have successfully addressed the problem.

Obviously, public safety matters the most, but would this ordinance increase safety?

Certainly, business owners should be treated fairly and reasonably. The pandemic already has made conditions difficult for the ones that have managed to survive as pandemic restrictions have drained business and profits.

As for the old ordinance, it wasn’t perfect, but it was thorough and thoughtful, and this editorial board supported it.

That said, we’d have to be convinced of the need for a new ordinance now.

The operating hours of such businesses already have been severely curtailed as it is, to 10 p.m. closings, and the urgency to act now, to us, is questionable.

Remember, the compulsion to do something — anything — in the face of a serious problem, is human nature. But good intentions alone are not enough.

New rules for these businesses should be worth the bother and expense.

We’re not sure they are. At least not yet.

In 2014, the bouncers on City Council kicked the original ordinance to the curb for a reason.

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