Published January 14, 2015
A gang member fresh out of prison works the door of a Providence nightclub. Officers in San Diego arrest a bouncer accused of beating and bloodying a drunken patron. In New York City, a parolee hired to protect clubgoers sexually assaults and kills one.
Most bouncers carry clean records and do their jobs without incident, but many cities say the bad apples are spoiling the nightlife barrel. Providence is the latest trying to license bouncers, hoping to train them better, ease police workloads and erase their image as thugs on a power trip.
"How can you have a violent person being your security guard to handle problems in rational, calm way? You can't," said Robert Smith, a San Diego police detective and president and CEO of Nightclub Security Consultants. "I don't care if you're running the biggest dance club in the country. Better trained people do a better job."
Under the ordinance, bouncers would be required to get a license, complete a criminal background check, and undergo training to recognize fake IDs, avoid fights and block drunken partiers from entering clubs.
Some club owners and bouncers are skeptical, saying that cities should let owners manage their own clubs and that extra training for bouncers is an unnecessary expense.
"It's all in the management and how you want to run your establishment," said Brian Silva, general manager of the Roxy Providence, who said he supports background checks but not city-mandated training. "If you let punks in, you're going to have to deal with them."
Supporters of the Providence City Council's proposal say it would professionalize the industry and make the job of police easier by curbing violence that can occur when bar patrons empty into the streets after a night of drinking.
Providence police said that at least 35 bouncers have been implicated in on-the-job assaults in the past five years, and that two have been stabbed in the last two months.
Officers also said they found a gang member, a former leader of the Almighty Latin Kings Nation, recently released from prison and working the door of a club. They alerted the owner, who said he didn't know his employee's background, and the bouncer was fired.
In New York City, after a Boston woman was sexually assaulted and killed after a night of drinking in 2006, the city required security guards to undergo background checks, training and registration. Bouncer Darryl Littlejohn, a parolee with a long criminal history, was convicted Wednesday of murder in the death of 24-year-old Imette St. Guillen.
In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved legislation in 2007 that requires job-specific training for all security workers in California, including bouncers.
Smith started his consultant company after arresting the San Diego bouncer on a battery charge and finding that training requirements didn't exist for nightclub security. He has worked with officials in Providence; Boulder, Colo.; and Washington, D.C., and will help write the security guard training curriculum in California.
While other city officials have praised Smith's training, they have chosen not to mandate the process. Skip Coburn, executive director of the D.C. Nightlife Association, said that the city has been successful with voluntary training sessions but that their cost will likely keep them from becoming mandatory.
"In D.C., we don't even license bartenders," Coburn said. "A lot of people viewed it as a ploy for government to charge another $100 for a piece of stuff. That might be one of the reasons why the training is not considered."
Sarah Huntley, spokeswoman for the Boulder Police Department, said the city's two bouncer training classes were paid for by a grant; mandating the class would become too expensive for the city because no one locally has the training expertise.
Providence has required bouncers to register with the city and wear ID badges since 1999, but officials say registration was difficult to enforce.
Alvin Lipsett, a 6-foot-4 doorman at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel, a popular concert venue in downtown Providence, was one of about 30 bouncers to attend an October training session with Smith.
"They pretty much taught us that beating the crap out of someone isn't the answer when you have a problem at your club," said Lipsett, who has worked at Lupo's for five years. He said he would have no problem with the city's proposed ordinance, adding, "I think of myself as more of a negotiator than a bouncer."
But Teddy Fulton, the head bouncer at Snookers Pool Lounge, said that he and the other bouncers have registered with the city and that paying $50 for a two-year license with $25 renewal fee seems steep for his laid-back sports bar.
"I understand why police would want a name and face," Fulton said, "but there's a difference between sports bars and nightclubs. We all have bouncers, but for my guys to pay 50 bucks, it's a little different."
The ordinance is in committee and might go before the City Council for a final vote next week. But even for Lipsett, who found the training helpful, there's still an element of resignation when it comes to drunken clubgoers.
"Ninety-nine out of 100 people are nice people. You just get that one knucklehead that drinks too much," he said. "There's no cure for stupid."