"It's very obvious where there are overcapacity situations," Bruno says. "You go to your popular bars. The hip-hop group goes to Club Rain. A lot of the teeny boppers go to The Keg. We went into Graham Central Station and discovered that they had some dancing done there." (On its Web site, the club has been advertising the "sexy pole" dance showdown on Friday nights.) Says Bruno, "They're going to have to come under the new dancer ordinance."
Bruno is the administrator for LCG's Criminal Justice Support Services, a department that operates under the supervision of Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley. Criminal Justice Support Services acts as a liaison between LCG and the public on community policing issues.
"They're multi-faceted," Stanley says, "and they use different personnel from different departments ' including police, public works and the fire department. In addition to working with the neighborhoods and the neighborhood businesses, they help target and determine compliance with the laws that range from nuisances that may make life uncomfortable for people in the neighborhood to reports of fire code violations and things like that."
For the last two months, Bruno has been heading up a coalition that has conducted compliance checks on 52 Lafayette businesses. While the organization has no official name, it's being referred to as the public safety task force. "The task force was formed to help us to go out and handle each situation as it arises, based on complaints," Bruno says. "Several departments come together to discuss the issues." In addition to sharing information, the departments conduct simultaneous inspections of local businesses. Led by Bruno, the inspection team generally consists of two Lafayette police officers and inspectors from the Department of Planning, Zoning and Codes, as well as the Lafayette Fire Department.
The arrangement is somewhat unusual, considering that each department conducts such inspections on its own. "I think it's a more targeted effort involving the resources of government that plugs directly into the street," says Stanley. "The police department is overwhelmed. They get more than 100,000 calls a year. The fire department does do routine inspections, but they can't be everywhere all the time. Then there's the whole issue of nuisances, where we get repeat calls from residents or business owners about the conduct of other residents or businesses. This team gives a consolidated effort in those areas where we tend to get the most complaints. So it's not Marcus and the task force just going on the road citywide and performing inspections. It's an improved and more efficient resource."
The task force's funds have been coming out of the budget for criminal justice support services, with task force members being paid overtime for their duties. Bruno says that the cost for the operation averages between $1,200 and $1,600 a month. (Bruno does not receive overtime pay.)
On Thursday, Aug. 18, the city-parish council approved a budget amendment that dedicates $15,000 annually for task force operations. (The funding kicks in Nov. 1.) The new money could double the amount of inspections currently being performed by the task force. Stanley says Bruno will now be required to provide LCG with monthly or quarterly task force reports.
Bruno says the task force's increased activity has led to businesses cleaning up their acts. "The word is getting around," he says, "so we're having fewer complaints come up. When we walk into a place now, everybody shows us their bar card. When it comes to capacity, when they see that it's getting overcrowded, by 1 o'clock, they shut down the line."
Although the task force has been visibly active downtown, Bruno says the group can and does investigate compliance issues throughout the city and the unincorporated areas of the parish. The task force isn't specifically targeting Lafayette bars, but with 17 alcohol permits alone in downtown, it's a hotbed for inspections. "We focus a lot of attention there sometimes because of the amount of activity that takes place," says Bruno. "We deal with other types of cases as well. The bars have just become, I guess, a highlight because that's were most people see us."
Brandon Hargrave, owner of City Bar Downtown, was paid a visit by the task force on the night of Saturday, Aug. 6. At the time, Bruno says that the bar was over its legal occupancy limit by 120 patrons. Hargrave won't discuss specifics of the incident but disputes the task force's findings. "The numbers that they put together were inaccurate," he says. "There were many discrepancies in the report, and that can be proven very easily. There was a misunderstanding somewhere, but I don't want to attribute blame to anyone." Hargrave says that the matter is being investigated but would not comment further. Bruno says he isn't aware of a complaint but does say that he knows Hargrave had a discussion with Fire Chief Robert Benoit.
Hargrave is a member of a new bar and restaurant association that has been meeting monthly for the last three months to address issues that affect their businesses. There are some 15 members representing Lafayette bars and restaurants.
NiteTown owner George Favaloro is a member of the association. "The bars get blamed for a lot of stuff," he says, "and we just want to try and fix these things too." Within the last year, his Jefferson Street club has had three compliance inspections. "I think it's a good thing," he says. "It makes the bar owners focus on what they need to be doing."
Hargrave has no problem with the task force and understands that Bruno and the task force are simply doing their jobs. But as a small business owner, he's troubled by his encounter with the organization. "I do everything I can to follow the rules," he says. "I have two Lafayette city police officers working the front door and one Lafayette city police officer in uniform working the back door. I also have two bouncers right inside the front door counting the people that go in and out. I have a bouncer at the back door, and I also have a bouncer that floats and walks through the crowd to make sure there's no congestion anywhere.
"On an average Saturday night, I spend $780 on security, which is a lot," he adds. "We're just doing everything we can, and we're really trying to work with the task force and the city. Unfortunately, there were mistakes that were made that night, and they were on their behalf. It wasn't ours."
OK, so they’re bentgrass, the type used on golf course greens. But grass is grass.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill Wednesday, despite opponents who argued it would shut down the storefront lenders.
A measure to allow the state to implement its own, less stringent plan for limiting carbon dioxide emissions unanimously passed the Senate.
FDA to regulate e-cigarettes, Jodie Foster gets married, Vermont to require labels on genetically-modified food, and more news for today, April 24, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
A push to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care has been overwhelmingly rejected by the Senate health committee.
Louisiana welfare recipients would be prohibited in state law from spending the federal assistance at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores, under a bill that received the support Wednesday of a House committee.
Senators will consider whether to prohibit private businesses in Louisiana from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job.
Rep. Joel Robideaux has delayed bill hearings and said unless a compromise can be reached, he won't bring up the legislation this session.
Once again, Lafayette Parish School Board President Hunter Beasley is focused on an issue that has nothing to do with the educational well-being of our public school children.
After exhausting his appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete has no legal remedy left save one: do an end run around the high court via a bill that would grandfather his “right” to keep a 550-pound tiger enclosed in a pin at his roadside business.
Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque has won the 2014 Louisiana Writer Award, given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life.
Drivers would have to secure dogs riding in truck beds while on interstate highways, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House.
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.
State Rep. Stuart Bishop says he’s concerned with the quality of Capitol Lake, but when it comes to Louisiana’s coastline, this Lafayette Republican doesn't seem to give a damn.
Democrats sweating this year's elections may be hoping that the Obama administration's latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline takes a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.
Louisiana lawmakers are entering the second half of their three-month regular legislative session, which must end by June 2. Where some of the major issues stand: