Story by TRONE DOWD
Photos by Sasha Maslov
In the city that never sleeps, it’s no surprise that New York’s bustling nightlife scene is one of the city’s biggest draws. Clubs, bars and other late-night activities are part of the experience for residents and visitors alike.
Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the introduction of a Nightlife Advisory Board whose intended function is to develop and diversify the types of activities that visitors to the Big Apple can experience once the sun goes down. But while the Nightlife Advisory Board focuses on improving the experience for the city, what does it mean for outer boroughs—such as Queens—which have been dealing with this issue for years?
According to the mayor, the city’s advisory board is a 14-member body that is made up of various DJs, hospitality advocates and regulatory attorneys from Manhattan and Brooklyn. The board will be headed by Ariel Palitz, whom the mayor’s office described as a “lifelong New Yorker and nightlife professional.” Palitz has owned and operated Sutra, a successful nightclub on the Lower East Side, for more than a decade. She has also served on Community Board 3 in Manhattan for more than six years and has spent the last three years helping up-and-coming entrepreneurs open nightlife establishments of their own.
“The new Nightlife Advisory Board reflects the diversity that makes our city and our nightlife great,” de Blasio said. “Working together, we will ensure the industry continues to thrive.”
The advisory board will work together to make recommendations to the mayor’s office and the City Council about how they can effectively change policy surrounding the regulatory structure of the nightlife industry without sacrificing any of the fun. This includes such concerns as public safety, zoning, enforcement, nightlife workforce conditions and the integration of nightlife into the city’s various neighborhoods. All members are set to serve two-year terms.
The plan has since received overwhelming support from city officials, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), who said that “the establishment of the Nightlife Advisory Board gives stakeholders a voice and path to solutions.”
But while Manhattan and Brooklyn have appropriate representation on the board, the Bronx and Queens have fewer members, despite having active nightlife scenes of their own. For some residents, including those of several neighborhoods in Southeast Queens, clubs and bars have become a quality-of-life issue for which they have sought relief. For these areas, the NYPD has been the main force behind keeping streets safe while New Yorkers go out on weekend nights.
Various precincts around the city, including the 102nd in South Queens and the 105th in Southeast Queens, have established their own task forces to deal with nightlife-related issues over the years. Many of these programs and officers have since been replaced by neighborhood coordinating officers (NCOs).
Community-affairs officers at the 105th Precinct told the Queens Tribune that the special unit known as the Noise Car was used to police nightlife issues along Merrick Boulevard and residential noise complaints, which typically stem from house parties. The unit has produced results for the precinct, which has seen record-low crime rates over the past few years.
Earlier this year, the Noise Car was removed with the introduction of around-the-clock NCOs. Today, NCOs answer calls while on the beat and learn how nightlife establishments affect their various communities.
Capt. Courtney Nilan, the commanding officer of the 102nd Precinct, told the Queens Tribune that similar steps were taken in her jurisdiction.
“There is a huge concentration of bars and clubs, which have liquor licenses from the state liquor authority,” she said. “That is a lot for such a small precinct.”
The 102nd Precinct—which covers such neighborhoods as Richmond Hill, Kew Gardens, Woodhaven and parts of Ozone Park—contains more than 100 bars, according to Nilan. As a result, she said that establishing a close relationship with the State Liquor Authority (SLA) was paramount to the precinct.
So far this year, two shootings have taken place within the confines of the 102nd Precinct, a 50 percent drop in crime compared to the same time period in 2017. But while the downward trend in shootings correlates with the overall drop in crime across the city, Nilan said that nightlife-related violence is still an issue.
“Those two shootings were both club related,” she said.
In March, a shooting incident took place outside the Zen Lounge in Richmond Hill, injuring three patrons. In April, two brothers were shot outside the Rose Lounge in Richmond Hill. Both men survived the shooting.
“With the help of the SLA, we were able to shut down both locations,” Nilan said. “Both locations are still shut down now.”
Nilan added that these incidents typically occur on the weekend around 4 a.m., which is the time that many clubs close in South Queens.
“When you have upwards of 300 to 400 people trying to leave a club at the same time and some might be drunk, you begin to see problems,” she said.
To combat violence at these neighborhood establishments, Nilan and her predecessor, Inspector Deodat Urpresaud, established what is known as the “Midnight Conditions Club Team.”
“It was one sergeant and six police officers,” she said. “Their main function was to deal with all club- and bar-related issues. What that meant was not just dealing with incidents after they happened, but to prevent these issues from happening in the first place.”
Prevention efforts are expensive in the 102nd Precinct. Officers meet with club owners and security personnel to lay out the precinct’s expectations. The team also conducts business inspection for establishments in the precinct.
“We’ve done over 40 of these inspections,” Nilan said. “When we go into these places, we check their records; make sure their safety precautions are in place. If there are any violations, we hand out the appropriate summonses.”
Finally, the team monitors scheduled weekend parties and activities in the precinct via social media.
“If we find out that a particularly big party is happening, we will send a car to that location just to have a presence and ensure that it’s not going over occupancy or getting out of control,” she said.
Nilan spoke highly of the results that her prevention teams were able to produce.
“I think it’s a testament to the work of those police officers as well as a lot of my supervisors on the midnight shift,” she said. “In the months of June and July, we haven’t had a single club-related crime.”
On July 16, just four days after the mayor announced the introduction of the Nightlife Advisory Board, the 102nd Precinct instated the NCO program, making it the last precinct to adopt the initiative in Queens Patrol Borough South. During the transition, the Midnight Conditions Team was disbanded, much like the 105th’s Noise Car was discontinued upon the arrival of the NCO program. However, the NCO program’s new Midnight Anti-Crime Team works in the same manner as the previous program. Nilan promised that the same kind of productivity and prevention is still taking place in her precinct.
Nilan said that she would “absolutely” be willing to contribute to the mayor’s advisory board to help offer a more local perspective.
“I would always be open to sharing ideas and helping any nonprofit or unit of the mayor,” she said. “We already do it with domestic violence, sitting down with the mayor’s commision on that issue.