Gun-related calls for service in downtown’s entertainment district have increased between 20 and 25 percent every year, with the exception of last year, according Scottsdale Police Chief Jeff Walther.
That amounts to 68 gun-related calls for service this year.
Assaults on police officers are also on the rise.
“It was a pretty wild scene,” said Scottsdale City Councilwoman Tammy Caputi, who went on a police ride-along in the entertainment district in July.
That’s why Walther is asking City Council to update the public safety plan.
“I’m definitely supportive of anything that makes our downtown safer,” Caputi said. “It’s common-sense stuff.”
Maybe the most important proposed change to the plan is a requirement for clubs to keep video recordings of incidents and make them accessible to the police.
While not required, most clubs downtown have surveillance cameras these days, though many staff members may not know it or realize it is recorded. Those records can be key evidence if an incident occurs.
Another proposed change would require all security staff to wear clearly marked clothing.
“Unmarked or poorly marked security personnel have regularly led to problems for us,” Walther told council on Aug. 24. “Somebody puts their hands on (a patron). They can’t see security or anything on that person.
“They think they are being attacked and now a fight ensues and it really winds up being with staff and when that person doesn’t know it’s staff they just think they are being attacked by some random person.”
The revisions would also require clubs to maintain the lines of patrons waiting to enter. Those lines can reach so long they block traffic and pedestrians.
Lines to get into clubs can run well over 50 people and overall club crowds can reach as high as 15,000 people in the downtown area on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
“As you see, the clubs get more and more popular. I didn’t think that was possible yet they continue to be very, very popular here, this is the place to come, it’s very vibrant, it’s very exciting so now what we’re seeing is lines and some very long lines,” Walther told the council.
The updates would also require clubs to make it clear who is in charge at clubs.
“What we’ve found over the last eight years (is) it to be difficult on occasion when we have an incident to find who is really a controlling person in the business, who is running things, and so this tightens that up a little bit for us to be able to identify those folks.”
The proposed ordinance changes would also introduce a number of definitions to key wording of the public safety plan to make enforcement easier.
They also would require club staffers to attend any court hearing involving an incident that happened in their facility.
The original ordinance was created in 2013 when a security guard at the Martini Ranch was stabbed to death.
It primarily requires one security staff for every 50 people in the club for the first 500 patrons and one additional security officer per 75 after that during peak hours, which are generally 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday through Sunday.
It also requires off-duty police officers be hired by venues once a certain number of public safety incidents.
While security was “hit or miss” prior to the ordinance, the net result was security staff at most clubs that were primarily trained by the police.
“We’ve had a great deal of success with this simply because as what we found prior to this was the violence was happening in the clubs,” Walther said.
“When a violent incident is inside the club, that usually brings in a whole bunch of other people (who) jump into the mix and we wound up seeing more injuries, more arrests more problems inside the club,” he continued, adding that “sending my folks into a club where there is a massive brawl is very dangerous for the officers responding to that.”
He said now that his department is training security staffers, “what we see is that something will occur inside, their staff has gotten very good at getting the offending person outside. And then it gets ugly out front but we’re out front or we get called to the front where we have a little bit more room to maneuver and a little bit more flexibility.”
There would be at least three public hearings and police would meet with club owners as well before changes to the ordinance could go into effect.
While Walther calls the downtown “controlled chaos” on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, he insists it is safe.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Capputi pointed out the downtown is a growth area that brings in millions of dollars in revenue for the city.
She wants to see a downtown that services club goers as well as families and older patrons as well.
“I want it to be a year-round destination center,” she said.
Councilwoman Solange Whitehead said it’s important to keep the entertainment district’s reputation intact.
“Our vibrant downtown, I think the biggest threat to that is to have it have an image of a dangerous downtown,” she said.