Fells Point club ordered to shape up

Police threaten mass arrests if bar owner doesn't amend rules

Anger after killing

City urges dress code, use of off-duty officers to deter `hoodlums'

October 27, 2001|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The owner of Fells Point Cafe/Club 723 was told yesterday to change his policies -- including enforcing a dress code to discourage "hoodlums" from congregating -- or police will crank up pressure and arrest crowds that gather outside the club.

"You have to back me up on this if you don't want me breathing down your neck," Southeast District Maj. Zeinab Rabold told owner Thomas Hicks at a meeting that included community leaders, city officials and members of the liquor board.

"I'm fed up to the point of bursting. I'm about to get two wagons and back them up and lock up everybody" in front of the club, said Rabold.

Hicks, who received a verbal lashing from community members at a meeting this week, agreed yesterday to submit a letter to Mayor Martin O'Malley's office by Nov. 5 spelling out the changes he will make to ensure neighborhood safety. Then he will submit the letter for approval to the Fells Point Task Force -- a group of residents, community leaders and business owners -- at its Nov. 28th meeting.

Hicks said he hasn't decided exactly what he will include in the letter.

"I'm trying to come up with some agreement so I can work with my community," he said.

Yesterday's meeting was called by city officials in the aftermath of complaints that club patrons loiter, urinate outdoors, make noise and jeopardize public safety.

Community anger increased after Michael Lambirth, 32, of West Baltimore was fatally shot Oct. 16 after leaving the club. The shooting happened at 2 a.m. about a block from the club, which is in the 700 block of S. Broadway.

Police and liquor board officials gave Hicks a list of demands yesterday, including: stop "catering" to underage drinkers; consider hiring off-duty police officers for security; provide training for bouncers; and join community associations.

Hicks said he will examine his finances to see if he can afford to hire two off-duty officers four nights a week, as recommended. The officers earn about $25 an hour.

Rabold said if Hicks hires the officers, it would allow police to cover other areas of the Southeastern District. Now, she said, they are spending a lot of time in Fells Point.

"It frees up my officers to patrol the streets at night," she said of having off-duty officers at the club. "At midnight, we're 40-something calls in the hole. That means citizens are waiting an hour for a police officer. Why? Because they're down where the crowds are."

It would also encourage safer behavior, said Nathan C. Irby Jr., executive secretary of the liquor board.

"If a uniformed policeman is in proximity, there seems to be a different attitude," Irby said. "It deters crimes because [the off-duty officers] have arrest powers."

Irby said he went to the club at 1:30 a.m. and found it "amazing" how many youngsters congregate outside the bar.

"It is unreal," Irby said. "You got to go down there to witness it." Hicks said his bar has more than 700 patrons on a weekend night.

The dress code that police are endorsing for Club 723 includes a no-sneakers policy and requires men to wear shirts with collars, Rabold said.

"Sneakers bring in the bad guys," she said. "They wear sneakers for one reason: to run from us. I'm not kidding you."

Sgt. Don Weeks said if all patrons were over 21 and wore shirts with collars, the club would "get rid of half the hoodlums."

Irby said liquor board inspectors are continuing raids across Fells Point. "We're not just looking at 723, we're looking at all of Fells Point," he said. "You have to look at the general health and welfare of the community to see if we can make the situation better."

Dominik Eckenstein, president of the Fells Point Business Association and owner of the Admiral Fell Inn, said the meeting was a positive step for the area.

"Some of it is common sense, some is common knowledge, some is common courtesy," he said.

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