P.G. cracks down on clubs beset by violence

New permit process targets worst establishments for closure

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“We want to attract more business inside the Beltway like they have in other parts of the area,” Ms. Toles said. “I can’t get the businesses that District 7 residents ask me for without making the area safe.”

Mr. Cunningham retired as a deputy chief from the county police department in order to take the job of deputy director in environmental resources. He said his career change is part of a strategy to jointly address problems that were previously attacked piecemeal.

“[The Department of Environment Resources] and the police department are working more closely than they ever have in the past,” he said.

That is where CB-18, the dance-hall bill, comes into play.

Introduced in June by Ms. Toles, passed by the council in July and signed by Mr. Baker, the legislation requires any club that offers public dancing for profit to obtain a dance-hall license. The broadly written statute specifies that the county “shall have the right to take all immediate and necessary action … when an activity is found to pose a threat to the health, safety and welfare of the public.”

The previous regulations required clubs to be licensed, but were aimed mostly at spelling out the handling of public-nuisance concerns such as excessive noise. The stricter stipulations in place now require background checks for license seekers, proof of insurance and the submission of plans detailing security, traffic management, lighting and evacuation procedures.

The provisions also make it easier for the county government to reject permit applications from previously problematic club owners and to shut down violence-prone clubs — which they did almost immediately.

The closures

The law’s passage — and its stringent requirements — set off a flurry of inspections that closed five clubs within two weeks in July and August.

The closed clubs were among the seven that police described in internal documents as “targeted locations.” Some of the clubs were targeted because police were frequently called for violent outbreaks. For instance, officers responded to calls for service at Gee’s in Hyattsville 153 times and to Music Sports and Games, or MSG, in Capitol Heights 215 times from January 2010 to July of this year, police data show.

• Gee’s was closed July 29 for operating without a valid use and occupancy permit.

• Upscale Ballroom in Suitland was closed the same day for operating outside of its use-and-occupancy permit, when inspectors discovered that the club featured nude female dancers.

• Puzzles in Suitland closed Aug. 4 for operating outside of its use-and-occupancy permit, but reopened the next day after an appeal.

• MSG was closed Aug. 10 for operating without a dance-hall license — three days after a woman was fatally shot outside the club.

• Stardust Lounge in District Heights was shuttered Aug. 12 after the fire marshal reported violations.

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