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Buffalo Common Council OKs licensing, IDs for bouncers at bars in city

After the fatal injury to a customer at Molly’s Pub in University Heights and several abuse cases reported on West Chippewa Street downtown, the city wants to know who the bouncers are in Buffalo bars.

And it also wants the customers to know.

The Common Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure requiring that all bouncers working in Buffalo be licensed by the city and wear photo identification visible to customers. The measure still needs approval from Mayor Byron W. Brown.

“There were several incidents and complaints I started hearing about after Molly’s Pub,” said Council President Darius G. Pridgen, who spearheaded this latest effort to get bouncers licensed in Buffalo. “I think it’s good to protect the patrons and the establishments.”

In 2006, the city adopted a bouncer licensing law, and the State Liquor Authority also requires many bouncers to be licensed by the state Department of State. But the city law, to date, has been largely ineffective and unenforced, Pridgen said. The state law, he said, isn’t considered widely enforced in Buffalo, either, he said.

The measure approved Tuesday would shift the responsibility for enforcing city bouncer licensing from the City Clerk’s Office to the Department of Permit and Inspection Services. That’s expected to make a big difference, Pridgen said. The permit and inspection office is in the process of purchasing a machine to take and issue photo identifications, Pridgen said. The department also is notifying all businesses with liquor licenses about the pending requirement and is committed to following up with enforcement, Pridgen said.

The licensing process would require background checks by the Buffalo Police Department, which must approve all license requests, he said. If individuals are licensed by the state, they would not have to go through the application process with the city, but still would have to be registered and receive a photo ID from the city, Pridgen said. The city license would cost $35 and be good for three years, he said.

State licenses require eight hours of training and a $36 fee, state officials said.

Concern over who is providing Buffalo bar security became an issue in May 2014 when Air National Guardsman William C. Sager Jr. was pushed down a flight of stairs headfirst at Molly’s Pub on Main Street by the manager, Jeffrey J. Basil, who eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter. Sager, 28, who suffered a devastating brain injury, died in Erie County Medical Center the following July.

Two off-duty Buffalo police officers who had provided bar security at Molly’s that night were inside when the incident occurred. Both officers were suspended by the Police Department, and the incident prompted the department to ban officers from providing bar security, including outside outdoors. One of the officers at Molly’s, Robert E. Eloff, was indicted for allegedly arresting someone at the scene who had done nothing wrong.

After the incident, several customers of other bars told authorities that Eloff had abused them either in his role as police officer or security guard. Other reports of abuse by bouncers on Chippewa and other bar strips also emerged. In one instance, Pridgen said, a young woman told him that a bouncer handcuffed her to a gate. He eventually let her go. When she asked for his name, Pridgen said, he refused to identify himself.

Pridgen concluded that the city needed to amend its existing bouncer law in order to ensure enforcement.

“I don’t see this as punitive against bouncers,” Pridgen said after the measure was approved Tuesday. “Establishments need them. They do help. It could be used as a tool with police, so police know who the bouncers are, and when someone is unruly, police and the bouncers know each other by name. Police right now don’t know who the bar owners are employing. The city doesn’t know.”