Collect Cop Calls

Posted December 24, 2008 in News

Starting next month, calling the cops in Riverside won’t be free anymore—at least if you’re a business that city officials think is ending up on the police blotter too many times.


A new ordinance allows the city to charge clubs, restaurants or other businesses the cost of dealing with constant criminal activity, public nuisances, loitering, calling 911 for non-emergency reasons or false file alarms that are linked to their properties. Riverside officials say it’s a way to prompt businesses to run their operations more responsibly and prevent the use of extraordinary police responses.


But others say the measure targeting those who are deemed responsible for using “a disproportionate amount of public safety resources” is a bum deal that casts blame for things beyond their control. This, proprietors say, sets a business un-friendly tone.


Martin Delgado, an investor in Carlos O’Brien’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina, says the city recently pulled the plug on his weekend nightclub-like events because of a couple of shooting incidents that occurred in his parking lot that shouldn’t be linked to his patrons.


“Whatever happens, they always blame it on me,” he tells the IE Weekly.


Delgado says he’s done all he can to run a safe, secure business such as hiring bouncers—at the city’ insistence—installing surveillance cameras inside and outside and holding his club nights only on Fridays and Saturdays. This last is another city requirement. 


The city—which is dealing with trimming its budget and declining tax revenues—contends the ordinance merely allows them to recover the hundreds and hundreds of dollars spent dealing with irresponsible businesses who hog-up police or firefighter time and log way too many calls.


Some businesses utilize a disproportionate amount of public safety resources thereby unreasonably diverting vital resources from other parts of the city, according to a city staff report prepared by officials from the city attorney’s office and the Riverside Police and Fire departments.


The ordinance, adopted by the council Dec. 2 and taking effect early next month, comes after a series of shootings and other incidents at a number of bars and nightclubs over the past few months. And it comes at a time when the Fire Department has been dealing with people who dial 911 for non-emergencies or false fire alarms due to pranksters or negligence, says John Martinez, a Fire Department division chief.


“The idea is that, if you have a fee, then you tend to get people’s attention right away when you hit them in the pocketbook,” he tells the IE Weekly.


That “could cost businesses hundreds of dollars.”


A business, according to the ordinance, would have to pay if the city deems it’s the cause of extraordinary police service or response, “which the city defines as three or more officers and a supervisor to a single emergency or the second response to the same business within a 30-day period or the third response within a 90-day period.” The business will be liable for all the costs of cops or firefighters’ time and trouble, which ranges anywhere from nearly $300 an hour to nearly $500 an hour, public records show. 


The ordinance does not apply when the business owners or tenants are the victims of a crime.


Councilman Frank Schiavone, in published reports, has said that it’s not fair for certain businesses to rely constantly on police for free because they won’t spend the money on extra security.


“I think they want the business owner to be a little more responsible in how they conduct their business, that’s the general feeling,” Martinez says.


Lack of properly trained security guards or bouncers, not hiring extra security when needed and bartenders serving patrons who’ve already had too much to drink are some of the issues police officials also cite as problems. One big problem area is the parking lot at the Denny’s restaurant at the University Village shopping center near UC Riverside. The site is apparently popular with the after hours crowd with people congregating there when area bars and nightclubs close for the night, according to city officials. Incidents there prompted 164 calls for police or city service, according to City Attorney Greg Priamos. At least 10 assaults and two officer-involved shootings have also taken place there.


In August, Riverside police arrested a 37-year-old Fontana man in the parking lot after he fired a gun into a crowd near the restaurant. 


Carlos O’Brien’s has also landed on the city’s radar as a problem.


In October, gunfire broke out in the parking lot of the restaurant. No injuries were reported, but several vehicles were struck by bullets. In November, a 36-year-old Fontana man was shot and killed in the parking lot. Immediately following this incident, Delgado says, the city yanked his conditional use permit, which had allowed him to hold his nightclub-like events.


Delgado says it’s unfair for his business to get red-flagged on the basis of a couple shooting incidents.


“I really think it’s ridiculous,” he says about the new ordinance. “It hurts business.”


He and a restaurant manager say Carlos O’Brien’s shouldn’t be held accountable for things that happen after the business has closed or by people who weren’t even their patrons.


“They automatically assume it’s our fault because our club draws people to our location, which is what happens,” the manager says. “The problem is they weren’t from our club.”


Delgado also says his business has always been blacklisted because the previous tenant, the Rocks Club, had been the scene of many fights, disturbances and cop calls. Rocks Club shut down in 2002 after the city pulled its permit. City officials initially rejected Delgado’s attempts in 2006 to open a nightclub, citing the Rocks Club problems, but eventually allowed him to operate DJ and club-like events there on Fridays and Saturdays only.


That all came to an end after the Nov. 9 fatal shooting. His restaurant and sports bar operations, remain.


“I’m really struggling right now to survive,” Delgado says. “My investment was $1.2 million and I’m not going to let it go just like that.”


If the business proves a problem, it will be required to provide the police chief with a written security plan, according to the ordinance. If the business fails to do so or its submitted plan is found to be inadequate, the chief can draw up his own plan.


The new ordinance takes effect Jan. 2. In six months, the city’s Public Safety Committee will discuss the effectiveness of the ordinance.


But for Delgado, the ordinance’s effectiveness will be its chilling effect on business.


“From the beginning, they always tell me Riverside is a business-friendly city and I tell them, ‘No, that’s no true,’” he says.


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