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The Price of a Night Out in Providence

Ultra, Rooftop, Nara Lounge, Lovera VIP, Flow, Club Seven, Noah Lounge. Chances are you have heard of one of these essential parts of Providence nightlife, been to one, or know someone who is there every night despite taking five classes, and writing a thesis. At Brown, Blue Room ticket sales, and loud Facebook announcements beckon us down the hill into downtown Providence where student organizations hold events at many similar establishments, but at what cost to our own safety? All of these establishments are sites of notable stabbings, shootings and violent events in the past two years. Providence is currently experiencing a resurgence of nightlife violence unique to the city. Though crime in general is down, recent fatal violent attacks call into question the safety of clubgoers: students, locals, and visitors alike, and it is not particularly comforting to know that our safety rests largely in the hands of the Providence Board of Licenses. The demonstrated inefficiency of the Board of Licenses demands an amended process for assessing and responding to nightlife violence in Providence.

Over the past few years, an alarming series of shootings and stabbings have occurred both inside and outside nightclubs and lounges, complicating regulation and safety measures. Additionally, there have been scattered incidences of violence between club patrons, and in rare cases between security guards and patrons. Unfortunately, it is difficult to pin-point the causes of the large increase in violent altercations. Some violence is definitely gang affiliated, including a June 2018 shooting outside of Ultra the Nightclub, and in the most recent shooting outside of a different Providence nightclub which killed a 19 year old woman in a case of mistaken identity. Though it is important in itself to curb gang violence, this is not a complete solution for the total eradication of nightlife violence.

The most frequent measure that the Board of Licenses takes in reaction to violence is revoking licenses, which shuts down clubs, usually for a period of three days. Art Bar was shut down for three days last November after shots were fired into the ceiling of the club. It has since reopened. Lovera VIP has been shut down twice, but the club is also still in operation. In some situations, the Board requires clubs to make changes to reopen, such as in the case of Flow Nightclub which was allowed to reopen after a shooting if a police security detail was hired on weekends. Most of these cases are pretty standard and follow the same pattern of reopening after three days, however the situation concerning Seven Nightlife is particularly unique.  Seven was shut down multiple times for periods of three days after a string of violent attacks. The club was finally closed permanently, but only after many people were injured.  The Board of Licenses only acts after the fact when violence has occurred. It should not take a tragedy to prompt them to act, and act in a way equivalent of giving the club a slap on the wrist.

The recent series of events has also prompted new questions into the safety, and accountability of night clubs in less severe settings. A bartender at Nara Lounge recently reported to WPRI that she was assaulted by a patron, and her complaint was not adequately handled by management. In her testimony, she also alluded to loosely followed security procedures. Concerning the murder of a man in Nara Lounge on Wednesday, October 2nd, the club’s lawyer admitted that there was no security on duty, and claimed that it was due to a miscommunication between the club, and their privately contracted security company. However, the security company told officials that “they don’t regularly work at Nara on Wednesdays.” This incident alludes to the problem of a lack of standardization of club security policies. If nobody is overseeing the security policies of Providence establishments, there is a lesser incentive for a club to pay to have security present. The Board of Licenses is not a strong enough disciplinary presence to enforce these policies.

Though the Board of Licenses has yet to take direct action to combat this violence, they have some proposed solutions. The first idea involves an independent counsel investigation into the Board at a cost of $15,000.  The last report, only five years ago, concluded in disappointing recommendations about changing the meeting time of the board, and other logistical suggestions into improving efficiency. Another costly and ineffective audit would not improve safety in the city. Instead, the Board should consider more concrete solutions:  one member of the Board, Councilman Salvatore, has called for regulations requiring more security in nightclubs, and has also promoted the idea that clubs should be responsible for their patrons as they leave the establishment as well as when they are inside.

An additional major proposal involves the creation of a 24-Hour Nightclub district, concentrated in one area away from residential areas where establishments would have no time limits on entertaining or serving alcohol. The purpose of this proposal is to concentrate noise in one area, and make nightlife easier to police. However, this proposal is too idealistic. It does not account for the difficulty of physically moving nightclubs to a new locale, or that this zone may just increase the number in the city instead of closing down nightclubs. Additionally, concentrating all of these establishments in one area may be convenient for those who live locally, but unfeasible to those living farther away.

Many of these proposed actions seem to be unaware of the severity of the ongoing situation. Board of Licenses Chairman Dylan Conley explains this inaction, and lack of preventative measures by saying “You can’t see into the future.” Though Providence may not be a city of fortune tellers, current trends in violence beseech the state of Rhode Island to act. While there is no perfect solution to making Providence nightlife safer, there are definitely better solutions. The $15,000 allocated for a review of the board could instead be used for increasing the security technologies of establishments, through purchasing security cameras, and metal detectors. This can fit into a larger solution of standardizing security across clubs, in a preventative way. Security details should not be only required at some clubs at certain nights; this should be organized in a way that is easy to enforce at every registered establishment. Additionally, it is obvious that additional security personnel is required in many situations, but this security needs to be implemented with significant training.

The Board of Licenses should not have sole jurisdiction over nightclub regulation. The Board does not legislate on issues of safety, but only on licensing policy, and its disciplinary measures are not helpful in ensuring safety, but only punitive in nature. Instead, there should be a special committee that works in accordance with the Board and Providence Police to create policy legislating public safety. Though it may be impossible to fight all the causes of these violent tendencies, Providence has an obligation to act, and it currently does not have sufficient regulatory powers to take concrete action. Though this committee will not eradicate violence by itself, it is the first necessary logistic step to making sure the city can adequately understand, and then address the issue.

Photo: Image via Divya Thakur (Flickr)