Saturday, February 18, 2012

Staggering Out the Stagger-Out

I came to Thursday night's City Council meeting with what I now realize were grandiose intentions: I had several sheets of paper, two working pens, and a plan to stay through the entire thing and then write a fairly comprehensive blog entry.

The overflow crowd meant even those who arrived just prior to 6:30 couldn't get seating in the balcony. Those of us who stood up in the obstructed view section were jammed in tight enough that me reaching for the pen in my coat pocket meant brushing up against the lady standing to my right and then an ACTUAL case of writer's cramp as I was trying to feverishly, assiduously commit all of Superintendent Lavallee's seven major points to paper. Undaunted, I wound up *riding the pine* on the floor for a bit after some yellow-bellied early exiters cleared some space in the balcony...all the way until the guy who started out by acknowledging the three-minute "warning" droned on with "...and just one more point" for what seemed like a small eternity.

Which was when I quietly and politely tapped the mat myself and made a beeline for Merrimack Street to Shattuck to Market to home.

Rather than try to summarize the notes I either can't quite decipher and didn't take well enough to begin with, I'll summarize with two points that I heard come from the excellent speeches from the neighborhood leaders and other civic groups (Ann Marie Page, Kathleen Marcin, Taya Dixon-Mullane, Bobby Tugbiyele, and Thomas Fleming all stood out for me):

(1) Downtown can't be a drain on citywide resources. Even as a downtowner, I have to admit this is a fair point. If the City Police feel that they need to devote so much manpower to controlling downtown on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights that other neighborhoods are left in a critically-vulnerable position, well, then, something is wrong. That's why, even if it's primarily just a small group of establishments and people causing problems, those issues need to be nipped in the bud. Criminals aren't dumb. Over the past two years, cities from Vallejo, CA to Newark, NJ have learned that when police resources are curtailed or diverted (in the case of Vallejo and Newark, layoffs were caused by negotiation failures between the unions and the municipalities), opportunistic criminals will pounce on the chance to take advantage of the vulnerable. If LPD resources had to be consistently shunted towards the downtown on the weekend evenings, how quickly do you think predatory criminals in the Acre or Lower Highlands would realize the numbers had shifted in their favor? For that matter, what about prospective home burglars in the city's better-off neighborhoods?

(2) One point that Superintendent Lavallee made that seemed to have some traction with the other speakers was a layered, or staggered, closing process rather than an "all or nothing" closing affixed to a single, arbitrary time. For instance, let's say all entertainment had to stop by 1:00 a.m. Let's say no *new* patrons (i.e. anyone other than smokers who had just stepped out for a few minutes) could enter by 1:15 a.m. (Hookslide Kelly's has received a lot of praise for voluntary implementing such a policy at 1:00 a.m.) Let's say no new drink orders could be placed after 1:30 a.m., and the lights had to be on by 1:45 a.m., with everyone out of the bar by 2:00 a.m. The exact times are arbitrary but the general point is that by rolling out a phased signal that "ladies and gentlemen, this night is winding to a close," you could avoid the problems associated with suddenly pulling the plug on a bunch of testosterone-addled guys (and yes, I'll throw my own gender under the bus here, because let's be honest about which half of the population is causing these problems) and tossing them out to the four winds.

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