In NYC, Uproar Over Nightlife Security Escalates

Club owners positioned against police on proposal to require clubs to have ID scanners, cameras


Bloomberg administration officials poked holes in proposals by the City Council to require clubs to install ID scanners and security cameras, while the fragile peace brokered between club owners, law enforcement, and the city appeared to shatter at a hearing yesterday as a top industry official accused the police of "stridency and hypocrisy."

The administration also said it would seek to enhance its enforcement powers over wayward clubs, pleasing lawmakers but angering the industry.

While the council has sought to enact wide-ranging changes in the nightlife industry following several recent high-profile incidents, yesterday's hearing highlighted the bumpy road lawmakers face in achieving consensus. The administration agreed in principle with the council's proposal to mandate security cameras and ID scanners to deter crime and combat underage drinking, but officials proposed amendments to the camera measures and said the ID scanner law could conflict with existing state regulations.

Several lawmakers and the New York Civil Liberties Union criticized both proposals due to concerns that nightclubs would use the security tapes and personal information gleaned from the scanners in inappropriate ways. The New York Nightlife Association, meanwhile, said that clubs needed to keep the tapes and scanner data for months as protection against litigation from patrons who were penalized or denied entry.

"The problem is, the devil is in the details," the chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, Peter Vallone Jr., said after the hearing. He said lawmakers would meet with the administration, the nightlife industry, and others to try to amend the bills and hammer out an agreement.

The hearing did yield progress on the long-running debate over whether clubs should be allowed to use off-duty police officers as paid security detail. The Police Department has said the practice violates state law, but the department's assistant commissioner of intergovernmental affairs, Susan Petito, appeared to open the door to allowing for on-duty officer to work at clubs in overtime shifts. "We're not prepared to take a position on that, but it is something we can talk further about," Ms. Petito told the council.

That did not stop the president of the nightlife association, David Rabin, from assailing the police department in testimony later in the hearing. "Their stridency and hypocrisy is just flabbergasting to me," he said.

He also criticized an administration proposal to enact a law allowing the city to shut down a nightlife establishment if there are two violent felonies at a location in a year, or if there are two or more violations of certain provisions of the Alcohol Beverage Control Law in a year. Mr. Rabin said that would make nightlife less safe, because clubs would be reluctant to call the police out of fear of getting a citation.