The state’s liquor licensing division has launched an investigation following a shooting outside two Bangor nightclubs last weekend, the latest in a series of violent episodes that have happened at the Harlow Street property the clubs share in recent years.
The investigation, which would only address potential liquor law violations, comes after state Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, called on officials to consider rescinding the nightclubs’ liquor licenses if they can’t put a stop to the repeated violence.
A spokesperson for the state’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations didn’t specify whether Half Acre Nightclub or Diamonds Gentleman’s Club, which both operate at 190 Harlow St., was the target of the investigation.
The probe represents the first concrete action following last weekend’s shooting to address violence at the popular night spot. On Monday, Bangor city councilors did not discuss how to address the shooting during a workshop or their subsequent regular meeting.
But there are steps the city could take to help end troublesome behavior emanating from the nightclubs, according to experts who spoke with the Bangor Daily News. Those include expanding a disruptive properties ordinance to apply to commercial establishments and taking a collaborative approach with police, the nightclubs and community members to try to solve the problem.
Before the shooting on early Sunday morning that left one person injured, a shooting also took place at the property last August, a man was killed there in 2020 and police have been called repeatedly over the years to respond to assaults and noise complaints.
“It seems like the ball is in Bangor’s court now,” said Robert Glover, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maine whose research focuses on democratic theory and political engagement. “If you have those businesses resulting in a pattern of violent behavior, is that what you want for your community?”
Even threatening to suspend or rescind a business’ liquor license is “the leverage that municipalities always have” to ensure recurring problems at a business cease, Glover said.
“If you suspend Half Acre’s or Diamonds’ liquor license, there’s no other revenue stream for them,” he said.
The ultimate authority to issue a liquor license lies with the state, but the town or city where the business is located needs to approve it. The Bangor City Council last renewed Diamonds’ liquor license in February, and Half Acre’s was last renewed in August 2021 and will expire in November.
A disruptive properties ordinance also gives a city leverage over a problem spot, Glover said.
Bangor has such an ordinance, approved in 2013, that fines landlords $500 to $1,000 if they don’t try to address chronic problems such as loud music, boisterous gatherings, fights and criminal activity.
But it applies only to residential, not commercial, properties, so the city has never used it to cite 190 Harlow St., Bangor Code Enforcement Director Jeff Wallace said.
If police respond to such complaints at the same property twice within 60 days, the police chief classifies it as a disruptive property. The property owner must then agree to a code and fire safety inspection and meet with the police chief to create a plan to prevent future problems.
After 180 days without a problem, the city lifts the property’s disorderly classification.
“If we can use that on individuals, then it can certainly be used on businesses,” Glover said. “To me, that seems like the natural pathway.”
Patrick Brann, who owns 190 Harlow St. and Half Acre Nightclub said earlier this week he feels unfairly blamed when violence happens outside his business because he’s taken security measures inside, installing security cameras and requiring everyone to walk through a metal detector and have their IDs scanned.
When patrons get into arguments that turn violent outside on public property, Brann said those become the police’s responsibility.
Business owners still should be held accountable if their establishments foster violent behavior that requires constant police surveillance, Glover said, as it “transfers the responsibility onto the police and public.”
Michael Rocque, a Bates College sociology professor who specializes in criminology and criminal justice, said it would be in the nightclub owners’ best interests to work with police “to find a solution, because their patrons getting into tussles isn’t a helpful business model.”
While the nightclubs may ensure their patrons are safe inside, Rocque said simple measures, like helping patrons get a ride home and separating arguing customers, can keep everyone safe after they’ve left.
“Simple things like street lighting or having a police officer drive past or park nearby have shown to be effective at reducing crime,” Rocque said. “Wiping your hands and saying, ‘it’s not my problem,’ isn’t the best solution on either side.”
Some conflict is to be expected when a typically, young, male customer base and alcohol are combined, Rocque said. But there are more collaborative and constructive ways to address it than revoking an establishment’s liquor license, he said.
“Removing alcohol would be a strict way to reduce violence,” he said. “The only problem is, that’s going to damage the business.”
Police could employ “problem-solving policing,” an approach in which they work with community members and business owners to understand when and how chronic problems arise. The approach reinforces that everyone has a stake in addressing violence, Rocque said.
“From a moral perspective, I would hope everyone feels they have a stake in trying to stop these incidents from happening,” he said. “It’s time to figure it out.”