Bar program effective, RCMP says

By Katie DeRosa, Times Colonist July 10, 2009 6:14 AM

Police and bar owners in Nanaimo say a Bar Watch program similar to one launched in Victoria this week has curbed violence and rowdiness in that city’s downtown in the last two years.

"We’re seeing a significant reduction in violence in the downtown core," said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman.

Victoria police and the Victoria Bar and Cabaret Association are hoping for similar results after launching the program here on Wednesday.

Doormen at several downtown bars will now swipe patrons’ IDs and take their pictures using an electronic system created by B.C.-based TreoScope Technologies.

If a patron has been kicked out of a bar for drinking too much, has a history of fighting in bars or has gang ties, an "alert" is created on their file that comes up if they try to get into another participating bar.

Four downtown Nanaimo bars currently use the system and Nanaimo councillor Merv Unger said the late-night violence, vomiting and urination in business doorways, once rampant outside bars after last call, has almost disappeared. "The wild nights after hours have just died down," said Unger.

O’Brien said known gang members have stopped hanging out in busy downtown Nanaimo bars and are forced to conduct business in quieter outlying bars where they’re much more visible.

In Victoria, Element Nightclub has been using the swiping system, albeit sporadically, for the past two years. Grant Olson, co-owner of the Strathcona Hotel, said the system has weeded out bad apples flagged from the Lower Mainland.

It also keeps out minors, he said, because patrons can no longer pass their IDs to a waiting underage teen, and IDs that have been tampered with or have expired are caught when they’re scanned.

The system costs $4,700 plus a $150-a-month maintenance fee, and the cost of training staff. The Downtown Business Association will cover a quarter of the set-up cost, said association president Ken Kelly.

Participating bars get a red sticker to display in their windows and their memberships will be reviewed every year based on their compliance with liquor laws.

Thirteen pubs and nightclubs have signed on to the program. The nightclubs will be swiping IDs but the four pubs — Bard and Banker Public House, Irish Times Pub, Smith’s Pub and Darcy’s Pub — will not, said Scott Gurney, spokesman for the Victoria Bar and Cabaret Association. Pubs cater to a different clientele, and don’t encounter the problems nightclubs do, he said.

Like the other establishments in the program, the pubs will display a red sticker, which Gurney said is a deterrent for violent patrons or gang members.

B.C.’s privacy commissioner David Loukidelis is investigating whether electronically collecting and retaining information from someone’s driver’s licence violates privacy law, and is expected to make his decision in the next few weeks.

Paul Manhas owns three bars in downtown Nanaimo that swipe IDs and said few patrons have raised privacy concerns.

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