Aldermen empower police superintendent to close problem nightclubs and bars

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Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy would be empowered to shut down bars with a history of police incidents and keep them closed for up to six months under a crackdown advanced Tuesday triggered by a double homicide at a North Side nightclub.

Illegal discharge of a firearm, aggravated assault or battery, criminal sexual assault on the premises or on adjacent property would trigger immediate and indefinite closure of an establishment under the ordinance approved by the City Council’s License Committee at the behest of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).

The city would be required to hold a hearing on the “summary closure” within five business days. Shuttered businesses would not be allowed to reopen until they provide an approved “plan of action” to address safety concerns or win an appeal through the city’s license disciplinary process.

City Hall already has the right to order the temporary shutdown of a business after violence occurs on the premises.

But once the Chicago Police Department completes its investigation, the business is allowed to reopen pending a license disciplinary hearing. That’s a process that frustrates and infuriates area residents because it could drag on for six months or more.

The mayor’s plan would strengthen the city’s hand by authorizing the immediate and indefinite closure of an establishment deemed a threat to public safety until the appeals process is over and the “public nuisance” is eliminated.

Conduct by the business owner, license holder or patron of the business that “causes another person to suffer unconsciousness, severe bruising or bleeding or disability or disfigurement” would also trigger the new penalty, the ordinance states.

Emanuel introduced the ordinance during his runoff election campaign against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

The mayor flexed his legislative muscle just two days after a fight inside Dolphin Chicago, a Bucktown nightclub with a history of police complaints at 2200 N. Ashland Ave., spilled out into the street, triggering the fatal shooting of two people.

The men had been escorted out by security guards and were standing in a crowd on the sidewalk outside when shots rang out.

The incident prompted Bucktown Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose ward includes the Dolphin, to demand Emanuel crack the whip against bars and nightclubs with a history of police complaints.

Reilly, who served as one of Emanuel’s most visible campaign surrogates, insisted Tuesday the motive was public safety — not politics.

“When you have a bad actor — nightclubs are probably the best example — these [are] ticking time bombs. And if you have one violent incident at a nightclub, chances are you’re probably gonna have another one,” Reilly said.

“This allows the department to step in, suspend that operation, evaluate it, [and] determine whether or not it’s safe. If it’s safe, they’ll work on a plan to reopen that business. If it’s not, they’ll remain closed, and they [must] change the way they behave.”

Reilly said the fatal shootings at Dolphin were the final straw, but it was not the only example of bars and nightclubs that pose a “real risk” to area residents.

Still, he expects the new and powerful tool to be used sparingly because the impact of a six-month closing could be devastating to a business.

“You have to have one of these very serious acts occur on premise. You need to be able to prove the damages or injuries resulting from that can be linked directly back to that business. And it sets out a very specific appeals process that allows business to push back if they feel they’ve been unfairly targeted,” the alderman said.

“If you look at the violent offenses that we’ve listed that qualify, these are the most serious like murder, aggravated battery, criminal sexual assault, rape. That’s a pretty high burden to meet from the get-go.”

City Hall sources said the Dolphin “was written up 14 times” since 2006 and fined an unspecified amount for a host of violations that range from over-occupancy to operating after hours and failure to notify police of criminal conduct.

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