In a display that Alderman Wayne Easterly described as a “hijacking,” Pine Bluff police chief Jeff Hubanks was grilled over his recent decision to prohibit officers from working in local nightclubs.
Hubanks listed several reasons as to why officers should not be permitted to work in local night clubs. His primary objection hangs on the peg of liability. The on-premises consumption of alcohol — and the off-duty officers’ obligations surrounding the behavior that flows from it — necessarily create risk conditions that the agency (and city) can ill-afford to assume. With officers present, it is theoretically possible for someone injured by a drunk driver (having left the club intoxicated) to sue the city for failing to prevent the drunk from driving.
Furthermore, it is possible that a patron injured in a drunken scuffle could cite as a point of liability the officers’ failure to protect them from injury.
In short, the presence of officers creates huge liability for the city, while shielding the club owners from the reality of the situations created by their business model.
It should also be noted that only three nightclubs within the city hire off-duty officers: PJ’s; Buffy’s; and the V.F.W. It should also be noted that the police department presented figures at a recent town hall reflecting that PJ’s has the highest call for service demand of any business in the city other than Walmart and JRMC.
In last year’s debate over club closing times, Hubanks told the council that calls for service, following clubs’ 2 a.m. closing, spiked 200 percent. At that time Hubanks also presented documents showing the high number of calls for service in the immediate areas surrounding the city’s nightclubs.
Council members Thelma Walker and Glen Brown would not accede to the chief’s reasoning.
Brown asked of the chief, “It’s about control. Isn’t it better to have officers on hand to keep situations from escalating out of control?”
Brown’s question suggests that he acknowledges a fact about the nature of business at these establishments: inherent volatility. If one interrogates his reasoning a little, it leads nowhere good.
Why is it that nightclubs argue the necessity of police presence, when very few other businesses feel the need for constant police protection? Few people likely think they might get shot or robbed in the parking lot of a burger joint or shoe store. When the discussion turns to these clubs, the situation is transformed.
What is it about the nature of business as usual that creates a differential risk? Moreover, why should police officers be expected to referee the patrons of a private business? If the situations are so inherently dangerous, doesn’t that suggest something intolerable about the atmosphere created by these establishments?
Walker acknowledged that officers can make as much as $900 per month working part-time in clubs. This gets to a much larger point that the city council has avoided for decades: Pine Bluff police officers are vastly underpaid relative to their peers in other cities.
In short, why would we want to perpetuate a wild west mentality with regard to “entertainment”? We can either focus on maintaining the unsatisfactory status quo or we can focus on the city we want to become.