D.C. Cracks Down on Clubs

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The D.C. government is targeting violence and underage drinking at nightclubs by suspending more licenses of businesses found to have problems.

This year, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has temporarily suspended the licenses of 94 nightclubs and permanently closed two others. Last year, the board issued 138 suspensions but did not close any clubs.

The board closed Smarta/Broadway nightclub on Ninth Street NW as a result of a fatal shooting there last year. It also shut down Lime, which was on Half Street SW, near the new baseball stadium. Lime lost its license after its owners were caught selling alcohol after approved hours and extending operating hours, officials said.

Owners of Platinum, a once-trendy spot on F Street NW, avoided being permanently shut down last week by agreeing to close on their own. The establishment's license was suspended in March after a shooting outside the club.

Club Five, another popular spot in Northwest Washington, has been temporarily shut down while authorities investigate a Memorial Day weekend stabbing.

The increased enforcement comes nearly a year after various nightclub owners and city officials, led by D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), agreed on security improvements.

The effort came in the wake of the January 2007 shooting death of Taleshia Ford, 17, a bystander hit by gunfire at Smarta/Broadway, also known as Club 1919.

"The Taleshia Ford case was a terrible tragedy, but it gets to the point of what we have to do. And that means, in part, more aggressive investigators," said Peter B. Feather, the alcohol control board's chairman.

To bolster the seven-member board, council members voted in the fall to give its investigators an additional $225,000.

Some of the money was used to hire four investigators, bringing the staff to 17. The board also added financial incentives: Investigators can earn as much as $12,000 more a year if they are promoted.

Last year, the board typically met once a week and carried a backlog of 40 to 50 cases a month. This year the board is meeting as frequently as three times a week and has a monthly backlog of 72 to 226 cases.

Club owners have raised questions about the increased enforcement. The city would be better served, they say, by having investigators work with owners when problems arise.

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