Plan focuses on working with nightlife- spots to make them safer

In 2008, city council put into motion plans to decrease social disorder in and around Calgary bars.

Druh Farrell, alderman for Ward 7, put the motion forth; with her ward containing parts of Kensington and downtown, she knows the problems the local nightlife can create.

“There were several problem bars in the city of Calgary that were creating huge problems for the police service, bylaw, EMS, and fire department,” Farrell said of the state of the bar scene in 2008. “I recognized that there was more that we could do to deal with social disorder before it got out of hand.”

She described social disorder as: “Lots of crime, lots of spill over problems, spilling over from the bar, so not just noise but vandalism and fights.

“Hearing from neighbouring communities, and neighbouring businesses about the impact that some of these problem bars had on their business viability, it showed that it’s a very serious issue.”Downtown, which holds the greatest concentration of bars in Calgary, often faces problems of dealing with disorder. This includes the brightly lit Stephen Avenue.
Photo by: Lindsay Douglas

Farrell continued, “One example was the Cecil Hotel that had 1,700 calls a year to police, so the cost was in the millions to the City of Calgary.”

In order to deal with these issues, city council implemented a plan to make bars safer to both be in, and be around.

One of the most recent aspects of this plan is the Best Bar None program, an initiative that bars sign up for, and in exchange for maintaining high standards of patron safety the business receives a sticker to display on their door ensuring customers know their safety comes first.

The program had a successful pilot run in Edmonton, and has since moved to Calgary.

The Public Safety Task Force and Compliance Team was created in 2003, and works to create safety in bars. The task force refers to the fire department, and the compliance team refers to all other external forces, including the police service.

Carter Duchesney, public safety compliance team constable with the team explained further.

“It’s a multi-agency effort and we visit licenced establishments throughout the city, and our job is to assist them in operating in all the different legislations that govern these establishments, and give them the information they need to run their businesses successfully.”

Duchesney added that it is not always necessarily the bar itself that is responsible for noise and disorder.

“Hearing from neighbouring communities, and neighbouring businesses about the impact that some of these problem bars had on their business viability it showed that it’s a very serious issue.”
— Alderman Druh Farrell,
 Ward 7

“We’re kind of hesitant to label a specific business as being a problem, just because it’s not always the staff or the owner’s problem,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t control the patrons that frequent your business.

“A lot of our calls don’t actually originate from a licenced establishment, they might happen out on the street after two or three establishments might close, and there’s no real way for us to trace that back to a specific address. My experience is that most bar owners are helpful and they want to improve the safety within their establishments because that means a little more lasting and successful business for them.”

Now over three years later, the city has seen results. This report to council from December 2011 shows there have been fewer calls to police regarding violence, intoxication and disturbances; Calgary is seeing its lowest rate of these calls in seven years. As well, there has been a 65 per cent reduction in calls to emergency services compared to the 2008 rate.

Although this effort has been in place since 2003, Farrell said one of the main aims of her motion was to get all the different departments communicating with each other and working together.

“What it did is it brought all the different decision makers, the police, firefighters, bylaw, planning and the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission and brought them all together at one table so that they could talk about the issues that they were having and address them in a proactive matter,” Farrell said.

Rebecca Sholter, who has lived downtown for three years, said that she’s never had much of a problem with social disorder, and rarely feels unsafe in a bar.

“I’ve never seen a threatening thing ever,” she said. “I don’t hear about things happening, maybe once in a while, you hear about people getting beat up outside a bar or something, but that’s about it.”

ldouglas@cjournal.ca