Tightened security measures coming to George Street

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on March 17, 2012
Patrons walk along the George Street Strip. The George Street Association has been on a fact-finding mission to Las Vegas, looking at new technologies to tighten security on the iconic street. The move follows the installation of surveillance cameras (inset) by the RNC last year. — Photos by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Security measures on George Street are going to get tighter. The George Street Association was in Las Vegas this week investigating systems, including capabilities for information sharing that would allow bars to exchange information on troublesome patrons.

Executive director Seamus O'Keefe said there were several systems at the Nightclub and Bar Convention and Tradeshow.

A new system of scanning IDs would not only catch fake ones, but transmit information to other bars about patrons who are bounced out. The idea is if someone is tossed out of one bar, the other bars on George Street would have the information and could use their discretion whether or not to admit the patron to their clubs.

In April 2011, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary installed outdoor video surveillance cameras along the popular party street in downtown St. John's.

Various bars, of course, have had their own inside video security systems for years.

The proposed new security measures are at the due diligence stage, O'Keefe said.

"I think it's another layer of the protection," he said, adding the intent is to protect patrons as well as staff and performers.

"It's pieces of the puzzle we are putting together. ... We're not saying there's an issue right now. But we think we need to be ahead of the curve on this type of technology. It's not a reaction to any particular incident. "It's a reaction to the times."

The systems are in use in various entertainment districts around the continent.

O'Keefe said the exact details will be worked out and the timelines for installation aren't known yet. The overall scanning might include cherrypicking people or scanning all IDs. There is likely to be a request for proposals on the new system.

"We would work with the RNC and the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. (NLC) to make sure what we are doing is consistent (with) policies and not restricting private rights," O'Keefe said.

Customers could also be rewarded with VIP cards through the system.

He acknowledged the street has gained somewhat of a rougher reputation in recent years, but he said things are changing.

"I truly believe it's an iconic destination that rivals any entertainment district in Canada and the U.S. We need to do everything we can to protect that brand," O'Keefe said.

Festivals on the street attract as many as 40,000 people.

Meanwhile, the association is also trying to solve the conundrum of not enough taxis at closing time, which clogs up the street and nearby areas.

O'Keefe said it's considering the possibility of contracting Metrobus or private operators and examining how other municipalities tackle the problem.

Between 1-4 a.m., there is a shortage of cabs in the district as patrons fan out around the downtown trying to get transportation. They're even filling hotel lobbies, O'Keefe said.

St. John's Coun. Tom Hann, who heads the St. John's Transportation Commission, said there has been some preliminary discussion about the bar association contracting a shuttle from Metrobus.

But he said there are concerns about safety issues and whether or not security will be required.

And there's the logistical conundrum of where the customers would be dropped off.

As well, drivers may not want to work early hour shifts, Hann said, noting there are private operators with buses who may be able to take it on.

He acknowledged the issue of bar goers jostling for taxis and the value of the street to tourism. Hann suggested council is willing to try to help solve the issues.

O'Keefe noted it hasn't been a year yet for the George Street cameras. But he said the association has gone to the RNC a number of times requesting footage be reviewed.

The case of a violent attack last fall captured on the George Street cameras is due back in court next month in what is believed to be the first charge resulting from the outdoor video surveillance system.

According to the RNC, there are 45 other cases currently being investigated as a result of incidents on George Street that have been picked up by the surveillance cameras.

RNC Chief Robert Johnston will speak in detail to members of the media later this month about the use of the cameras.