Policing Seattle’s Club Scene

The nightclub scene that grunge built got a year’s reprieve September 17th when the Seattle City Council agreed to put off a licensing requirement aimed at reducing litter, noise, violence and drug use in and around venues.

More than a dozen gun incidents, including shootings, have occurred in or near the city’s clubs in the past 14 months, according to the Seattle Times.

Nightclub operators were fiercely opposed to an original proposal that would have forced them to obtain licenses that could then be revoked for as little as a single offending incident. That proposal was amended to keep it from taking effect for a year, and requiring an affirmative vote to impose it at that time, passed on a 6-3 vote.

The council’s decision "takes out the politics; turns the heat down on all the rhetoric out there," said Tim Hatley, a lobbyist for the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association.

Council President Nick Licata said the delay would allow both sides to work toward agreement and spur backers to try less stringent measures that the council adopted in August. That measure included formation of the Nightlife commission to review law enforcement involving nearly 100 night spots and a requirement that each club have a safety plan.

Seattle’s nightclubs have come under scrutiny following a series of shootings and other violence in and around venues, culminating in a police "sting" operation called "Operation Sobering Thought." It revealed clubs serving alcohol to already inebriated and underage patrons, taking a casual approach to ID checks and other problems.

In one case, police reported a bouncer took a $100 bribe to allow a gun inside a club, though it never actually made it through the door, according to the Seattle Times. Opinions were split on the amendment delaying the imposition of licensing for a year.

"It’s a goofy amendment," complained one council member who supported a stronger measure. "It passes the buck to the next council."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer opined that the charges resulting from the sting operation were "hotly disputed" by club owners and staffers. The paper’s editorial board also pointed out that no one had yet been convicted of any charges and the Washington State Liquor Control Board already has the authority to yank liquor licenses when criminal conduct is involved.