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Public Oversight Roundtable on Minors and Underage Persons in Nightclubs and Taverns

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Public Oversight Roundtable on Minors and Underage Persons in Nightclubs and Taverns

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Cathy L. Lanier
Acting Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department

The following statement from Acting Chief Cathy L. Lanier was presented by Assistant Chief William Ponton to the District of Columbia Council, Committee on Public Works and the Environment, Honorable Jim Graham, John A. Wilson Building, Room 500, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.

  • Download a printable version of the statement

I want to thank the Committee for the opportunity to present this statement, and I want to applaud you, Mr. Chairman, for moving so quickly in holding this roundtable and gathering public comment on this critically important public safety issue.

Last Saturday’s fatal shooting of Taleshia Ford inside the Smarta/Broadway Club on 9th Street, NW, was a horrible tragedy – for Teleshia’s family, for her classmates and school community, and for the community at large. That is why it is incumbent upon those of us in government and in the community to respond quickly, decisively and effectively to this situation, so that we can dramatically reduce the chances of such a tragedy ever happening again.

As the Committee is aware, upon learning of the fatal shooting, I immediately invoked the powers vested in the Chief of Police by the Council to temporarily shut down the club. That way, the club is not allowed to operate while the ABC Board has an opportunity to investigate the situation more thoroughly. I knew this was the right step to take, and I did not hesitate to take it.

But to guard against tragedies like this from occurring in the future, all of us – collectively – need to do more than react to incidents that have already occurred. We need to be proactive – as well as creative and thorough – in taking steps to help ensure that no family ever has to go through the heartache that Taleshia Ford’s family is going through right now. I understand the agony her mother must be feeling, having to make a decision as to whether to allow her 17-year-old daughter to attend last Saturday’s event or not.  I believe that if there were clearer legal guidelines in place regarding the presence of minors in nightclubs and taverns, these types of decisions would be much easier for parents.

Toward that end, I would support new measures that would more strenuously restrict minors from being in any club or similar establishment whose primary source of revenue is the sale of alcoholic beverages. There are perfectly good reasons why the District of Columbia and all 50 states currently prohibit minors from purchasing alcohol: young people and alcohol just don’t mix, and putting the two together all too often has dangerous – even deadly – consequences.

The problem is that current District law creates a loophole in this principle by not prohibiting unaccompanied minors from being in clubs and other liquor establishments by themselves, and at hours well past what most people would consider reasonable for teenage children. Putting unaccompanied minors in the same place as adults with access to alcoholic beverages is just inviting trouble. If we are serious about reducing the chances of future tragedies, then we need to close that loophole.

As the Committee continues its deliberations on this issue, I would recommend that it give serious consideration to three ideas:

  • The first is to prohibit all unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 from being in any nightclub, tavern or other similar establishment whose primary source of revenue is the sale of alcoholic beverages.
  • Second, if accompanied by a parent, guardian or other responsible adult, minors could be permitted inside these establishments, but only if there were a system in place to clearly identify them as a minor – for example, a wristband or other conspicuous marker.  In fact, I believe this type of identification system should be required for anyone under the legal age for purchasing and consuming alcohol.
  • Third, I believe the Council should consider a cutoff time after which all minors, including those accompanied by adults, would have to leave these establishments.

Please recognize that these ideas are not intended to restrict the operations of restaurants that happen to serve alcohol.  Nor do I think we need to target entertainment venues that either do not serve alcohol or hold special “underage” shows where no alcohol is served. But we do need to do something about a system that allows unaccompanied minors to be in nightclubs, taverns and other similar establishments at practically all hours of the day and night.

For the safety of our children and our communities, we need to correct this situation – and we need to correct it quickly. We owe that much to Taleshia Ford, to her family, and to all of our young people and their families in the District of Columbia.  Thank you very much.