BANGOR, Maine — In the past four months, Bangor police have been called to 190 Harlow St., home to Diamonds Gentleman’s Club and the Half Acre Nightclub, more than 50 times, raising the ire of area residents and city officials.
“That’s high, 50 calls is high,” Bangor interim Police Chief Peter Arno said Thursday morning. “It obviously puts some stress on our workforce.”
Tom Brann, landlord of the property, said Thursday afternoon that he was surprised to hear about the concerns and that he had received very little information from either police or residents about the complaints. That lack of communication needs to be addressed, he said.
One of Brann’s sons, Matt Brann, owner of the Half Acre, echoed his father’s call for improved communication and said the club would work with the city on the issues.
In the most recent incident on Wednesday night, Bangor police arrested Walker Gaspar, 24, of Deer Isle and charged him with felony aggravated assault in connection with a knife attack in the parking lot.
Earlier that night, the clubs came up during a meeting at which city councilors and city staff discussed goals and challenges facing Bangor for 2013. During discussion of increasing drug and crime problems in the city, Arno said police resources, especially in the early morning hours, have been tied up at 190 Harlow St.
“We have done our best to deal with issues such as loitering, public intoxication and disorderly conduct,” Arno said in a memo drafted Oct. 29 after a series of noise complaints from residents in the area. “On occasion, this has tied up significant police resources, keeping in mind that after [1:45 a.m.], we have only five or six officers working.”
For several weeks during the summer, police posted an extra officer near the property whose sole responsibility was to monitor activity in the area around closing time. That detail ended in mid-October, but night crew officers drive by the property when time permits to make their presence known.
The memo cites a pair of incidents in the last weekend of October. Early on the morning of Oct. 28, Bangor police Sgt. Robert Angelo broke up a fight after one woman punched another in the face after leaving the Half Acre, spurring a “melee.” The alleged aggressor was charged with assault. That same weekend, staff at Diamonds called police to ask that they clear patrons out of the Harlow Street parking lot, a job that required three officers, according to Arno.
A Brockton, Mass., man was arrested Oct. 12 at Diamonds after a bag of cocaine fell out of his pocket, police said. There have been other instances of noise complaints, disorderly conduct, tresspasses and public urination.
“Not captured in these 50 complaints would be similar calls to adjacent properties, such as Abbot Square, most likely caused by patrons of these two establishments,” Arno said.
When police need to respond to a fight or noise complaint where many people are gathered, multiple officers can be required at the scene, “essentially leaving the city kind of wide open,” Arno said.
“It’s individuals, not the businesses that are causing the problems,” Brann said, adding he didn’t think it was up to the businesses to monitor individuals’ behavior after they leave the building.
“Where does individual responsibility begin and the responsibility of the business end?” Brann said.
City Manager Cathy Conlow said Thursday morning that she hopes to meet with the owners of the businesses sometime next week to figure out how to address the complaints.
“We need to have this discussion with them,” Conlow said.
“I think that would be a fantastic idea,” Jimmy Ellis, spokesman for Arayos LLC, Diamonds’ ownership group, said late Thursday morning. Ellis said he doesn’t want residents in the area to be upset with the business and doesn’t want its patrons tying up the city’s already busy and limited police force.
Part of the problem, according to Ellis, is the fact that patrons have to be out of both clubs by 1:30 a.m., which can send up to 300 intoxicated people into the parking lot at once.
“I don’t think that’s safe,” Ellis said. “That’s not a healthy situation.”
One potential solution, Ellis said, could be allowing the business to stay open later, maybe 3 a.m., but continue to stop serving alcohol at 1 a.m. He said that sort of “soft close” would encourage people to stay later, while drinking water or energy drinks to “sober up,” and then filter out of the building more gradually — a dozen at time rather than hundreds at a time.
When a mass of largely intoxicated, noisy people leave the clubs all at once, it also breeds potential for aggression among patrons, according to Arno and Ellis.
Ellis said he would do “anything and everything” he could to help the city resolve the crime and noise issues at the Harlow Street property.
“We’ve always worked with the city any time we’ve had any issues,” Brann said.
He cited a spat in 2005 over noise coming from the former Club Gemini, which was located at 190 Harlow St. Residents complained nearly every Friday and Saturday night about noise coming from the club.
Some of the same residents who complained later credited the owners of Gemini and 190 Harlow St. for working to correct the problem, and calls to police about noise dwindled. That has become a “case study” in how to resolve concerns, Brann said, but property owners spent “a lot of money” to make that happen.
Arno said increased police presence isn’t likely to solve the problem on its own, and that collaboration by the city and the businesses will need to happen.
“We can put 100 policemen down there monitoring people as they leave, but once someone shouts or a fight breaks out it’s already too late,” Arno said. “You can’t put the scream back in their mouth.
“We’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of this problem,” the chief said.