Prince George’s Councilwoman Karen Toles, D.-Dist. 7, has introduced a bill which she hopes will stem the violence surrounding some of the county’s nightclubs.

“Based on the homicides that occurred in Prince George’s County at the beginning of the year, as well as the concerns of my constituents, which I share, I felt it necessary for me to act legislatively to strengthen our public safety laws,” Toles said in a statement.

The bill would create a board similar to the ABC Board in the District that will regulate nightclubs and dancehalls in the county. The board members would be appointed by the chief of police, fire chief and the director of the Department of Environmental Resources (DER).

Anyone who would want to operate an adult or teen dancehall in the county would have to apply for a license with DER. Those persons will have to undergo a background check by the police department in addition to providing proof of several different types of insurance and pay a $1,000 license fee.

If there is an incident at one of the clubs, the board would have the authority to call a hearing within 72 hours of notice of violation to suspend or revoke a club owner’s license.

Club owners will also have to provide comprehensive security plans to be approved by the board. Those plans will include indoor and outdoor surveillance cameras, life safety and evacuation procedures, outdoor lighting schematics, parking and staffing procedures.

Under the bill, only state- or county-certified security officers or off-duty security could be employed by club owners. Officers on duty will be permitted to enter any club to ensure that the club is not in violation.

The new rules put the responsibility of what happens at nightclubs squarely on the owners. In the past, such responsibility has been shifted to promoters and go-go bands, many of whom have been blacklisted.

This is the first major action against the county’s nightclubs since 2007, when former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson shut down all nightclubs in the county after a string of violent incidents that apparently originated in the county’s nightclubs.

For Toles, whose district includes the Legend Nightclub in Temple Hills and other clubs that straddle the Washington, D.C. border, this bill is a promise to Prince George’s residents that she’s taking their safety seriously.

“I am committed to do everything within my power to protect the residents of Prince George’s County,” she said. “CB-18 strengthens our current laws to provide county police officers with a greater capacity and authority to protect and serve our community, and go after those who perpetuate criminal activity in District 7 and throughout Prince George’s County.”

The council will hold a public hearing on the bill July 19. It passed through the Public Safety and Fiscal Management Committee 4-0.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO