City to evaluate bouncers

by Beacon Staff • December 13, 2006

In light of the brutal slaying of 24-year-old Boston woman Imette Saint-Guillen in New York earlier this year, as well as numerous assault charges against bouncers, Boston City Council President Michael Flaherty has proposed legislation to require criminal background checks and mandatory training for bouncers and doormen at all Boston clubs and bars serving alcohol.

According to an Associated Press article, Flaherty was working on the legislation, prior to Saint-Guillen's murder in February 2006, after noticing a pattern of incidents being reported to the Boston Licensing Department. More than 80 patrons filed assault charges against bouncers in the last three years, according to a June 8 press release from City Hall regarding the legislation.

Saint-Guillen, a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, was last seen at the Falls Bar before being raped and murdered. Falls bouncer Darryl Littlejohn, since linked to the crime scene by DNA and cell phone records, was charged with first-degree murder Mar. 22 by a grand jury.

After being paroled in 2004 for a 1994 armed robbery, Littlejohn was under curfew and work restriction conditions of his parole but began working nights at the Falls Bar without his parole officer's knowledge, a New York Times report said.

New York City Council passed a toughened "bouncer law" for the city, requiring all doormen, bouncers and floor staff to be registered through the same channels as security guards, which require more extensive background checks, according to the City Council website.

Flaherty would like to see similar changes in Boston.

"The vast majority of owners of bars, clubs and other establishments provide a safe environment," Flaherty said in a released statement. "However, I think mandatory background checks and proper training for bouncers and doormen is a small thing to ask for the safety of those who patronize our bars and nightclubs."

Petar Madjarac, who has worked as a doorman at The Tam on Tremont Street since the beginning of October, said his training was informal.

"I kind of just showed up one day and another doorman, who had been there a lot longer, kind of showed me the ropes, showed me what to look for," said Madjarac, a freshman film major. "But there wasn't really a regimented training program."

According to Andrew Kenneally, a representative for Flaherty's office, employers have voiced objection to the cost of the third-party training, citing the high rate of turnover in the industry that would inflate costs and training time. Also in contention is the proposal's language, which could encompass more than just violent crimes.

In a Dec. 1 statement, Flaherty denied that people with prior convictions would be turned away from bouncer positions.

"I am not saying that someone with a record should not be manning the door," Flaherty said. "I do, however, think that anyone with a history of violence is probably not the best person you want to diffuse conflicts."

Specific language about what type of felonies that will be permissible under the law will be taken up by the committee, Kenneally said.

The legislation, soon to be sent to a working committee, will be amended by committee members before a final draft is submitted, Kenneally said. Flaherty's office is pushing for a vote later this month, but a provision in the bill requiring third-party training has roused objection from small bar and restaurant owners.

"We're hoping for a finished version that can be voted for on Dec. 20," said Kenneally. "The consensus we're hearing is that the third- party training will be too much. Basically, the hospitality industry, bars and other establishments, as well as our own licensing and affairs department, objects."

"If there is a situation where someone has a violent past, they're not supposed to put their hands on anyone, but the reality is that they do," Kenneally said. "In New York, if you have committed a felony, you are not able to be a bouncer. It's one of those situations where if you had a youthful indiscretion 10 years ago, we don't want to say you can't be a bouncer."

Kenneally said the committee will address these questions when it reviews the proposal.

Current training practices vary from place to place within the city.

At the Greatest Bar on Friend St., a training program is already in the works for all bouncers and floor staff, said general manager Jeff Boisseau.

"The training program is sponsored by the city. All of our door staff will go through training about how to handle situations, to educate them about how to approach people, before they have to pull someone out of the bar. It's not a lot of training, it's like an hour and half. The owner has been in touch with a lot of people at City Hall, but our goal is get everything in place before it's mandated," Boisseau said.

The 360 Ultralounge in Hyde Park, formally the Cosmopolitan Bar and Restaurant, was one of the 12 establishments named on a list of "most recent incidents," in the city hall press release.

The general manager, who declined to give his name, said that, "All security staff should be trained. We train them ourselves. Before they start, we have a hand book and a professional, licensed security guard company check them. We usually do background checks, through the security company," he said. A Jun. 27 hearing about a variety of violations, including employee on patron assault and battery charges, resulted in a one-day suspension of their alcohol and beverage license.

"There is a high rate of turnover, but we check all of our employees. Every club has incident reports, every week."