Sen. Brown holds meeting on violence in local nightclubs

In an effort to address violence in the community, state Sen. Robert Brown on Thursday identified nightclubs as one of the sources of the problem.

At a town hall meeting at Macon City Hall, Brown, D-Macon, heard from law enforcement officials, nightclub operators and community members to gather ideas for combating violence. Brown said he isn’t singling out the nightclubs, but rather identifying them as a common denominator in the problem.

“The whole issue of violence has come up, and we’re looking at it carefully,” Brown said to about a dozen people in the audience. “You can’t just have a blanket approach. What are the pressure points? Nightclubs are one area where we decided to begin.”

Macon police Maj. Robert Grabowski said there wasn’t much data before he began conducting surveys of clubs in the city in 2008. Examining data from seven nightclubs to get a sampling of incidents, about 32 to 40 of the calls police received were related to violent incidents at the clubs. According to the data, so far in 2010, Macon police have received 80 calls for service at the seven clubs. Grabowski did not name the clubs that police examined.

“It’s different at different establishments,” he said. “One place won’t have any calls one weekend, then have calls the next weekend. It depends on what venue you’re at and what is being presented.”

Grabowski suggested several ideas to Brown, including:

— reducing the number of hours an establishment is allowed to stay open;

— not allowing underage teens to enter clubs where alcohol is served, and no longer having teen parties at these clubs;

— making sure security is adequate at each establishment.

Bibb County Sheriff Jerry Modena concurred with Grabowski’s findings and told Brown he hoped the state would help local law enforcement make it easier to pull alcohol licenses at clubs that are frequent trouble spots.

Some club operators who spoke at the meeting said they try to do the best they can to provide security, but often if an incident takes place, it’s out of their control.

Donnie Giles, president of the corporation that owns Rockabilly’s on Sheraton Drive, said he and his wife, Dianne, have worked with local law enforcement for the past 33 years and say few of the incidents at the club occur inside. Most of the problems take place in the parking lot, where Giles has installed lights, security cameras and an employee who patrols in a golf cart.

Dianne Giles said only a few people are the troublemakers.

“We have a clean, well-run family operation,” she said. “I wish I knew the solution. I would do it. It’s not the numbers that cause the problem. It’s one idiot who ruins it for everybody. ... When something happens at one club, it reflects on all of the clubs.”

Kelron Howard, who works as a manager at Club Sinsations on Riverside Drive, said it’s difficult to balance safety and patrons having a good time.

“We try to do the best we can to stop an act before it starts,” he said. “It’s in our best interest to keep customers safe because they are our customers. It’s going to have to be a group effort.”

Howard asked Brown not to be too restrictive of nightclubs, which he said are good economic generators for the city and county. Howard noted that often people who have problems with each other in another part of town might run into each other at a club, and the situation can escalate.

“A lot of times, it doesn’t start with us. It ends with us,” he said.

Brown said the next step in the process will be to gather as many ideas as he can and work with state and local officials to see how they can be effected.

“We want to get the community engaged,” he said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.