Curb nightclub violence with ID scanners, police

By Nick Palm
Contributing Writer

Violent acts in and around San Francisco’s nightclubs over the last few years have become a hot button topic for city legislators, who created the Entertainment Commission in 2003 to act as watchdog over problem venues and their owners.

But a recent deadly altercation at one city club shows that even with the newly appointed power to shut down a club, the commission has not been able to change the recurring theme of violence found throughout the city’s nightlife.

A friend of mine is a nightclub promoter. He’s at a different nightclub almost every night, hosting a birthday party or playing DJ to hundreds of dancing club-goers.

One day last year, I asked how his gig went the previous night. “It was cool,” he said, “until somebody got shot and everyone had to go home.” There was no look of shock in his face, almost as if he had anticipated it.

Nothing will change unless certain practical solutions, like the use of ID card scanners inside and more police presence outside clubs, are in place.

Early Sunday Jan. 9, two separate brawls took place at Temple nightclub in the South of Market area. The first left UCSF medical student Joe Hernandez dead and another hospitalized. In the second, two victims were sent to the hospital after being stabbed with broken beer bottles.

The next day the Entertainment Commission ordered Temple to implement ID card scanners, double the amount of security cameras and have bouncers search guests using pat-downs before entry.

Those ID card scanners are quite possibly the most effective method of violence prevention in nightclubs. When a guest enters the club, their ID card is scanned, and all the information from the card is stored on a hard drive, making it easily accessible by management or local authorities if an altercation occurs.

Of course, applying these strict security measures will make some people cringe at the thought of our society coming closer to a true police state under heavy surveillance. But, as with any act of leisure, there is a cost for the feeling of safety and well-being.

When someone finds themselves in a large crowd, like the kind you would find inside a nightclub, they may encounter a feeling of anonymity. That feeling, when fueled by alcohol and the presence of other happy partiers, will typically cause one to let loose and enjoy the party.

Although feeling anonymous can also cause someone to believe they can get away with anything. Even violence.

As of yet, no arrests have been made in the Jan. 9 Temple assaults. Whoever killed Joe Hernandez fled the scene, as did many witnesses, putting a damper on the police department’s investigation.

Taking the anonymity out of nightclub and party scenarios will help keep patrons in check by reminding them that their presence in the club is on record.

But because any violent acts associated with nightclubs are taking place outside the actual clubs, scanners can’t solve the whole problem.

The notorious February 2010 shooting outside Club Suede at Fisherman’s Wharf, which left one dead and four others wounded, and the August 2010 murder of a German tourist in the theater district brought forth new legislation aimed at shutting down venues plagued by violence.

This is a cheap, temporary fix to a much larger problem. Simply shutting down a nightclub will not stop violence from happening on city streets.

Constant police presence at peak hours in parts of the city populated by nightclubs will deter many acts of violence from taking place outside parties just as ID card scanners will do inside a club.

The Entertainment Commission was given the insignificant power to shut down troubled nightclubs in August 2010, just after it was nearly shut down itself for being regarded as highly ineffective against violence by Mayor Gavin Newsom and citizen activists.

Responsibility for stemming the perpetual plague of street violence outside San Francisco nightclubs needs to be put back in the hands of the police department. Club owners are neither able nor qualified to police the streets near their establishments.

For the most part, club owners have been very cooperative. They don’t want their investment shot to pieces in a gang fight. They have been cooperating with the Entertainment Commission and the police department. Now it’s the police department’s turn to return the favor and protect San Francisco’s valuable nightlife industry.