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Buffalo should adopt Pridgen’s idea to require bouncers to be licensed

The Buffalo Common Council did the right thing in unanimously approving a measure requiring that all bouncers working in the city be licensed by the city and wear photo identification, visible to customers.

Now, all the mayor has to do is sign off on the decision.

There have been a number of unfortunate incidents over the years involving patrons who accused bouncers of assault, or some other mistreatment. Patrons who have futilely demanded to know the identity of those bouncers often risked more of the same treatment.

This is not to broadly disparage sentries whose job it is to protect patrons and property. Many do so well and with decorum. Bad actors need policing and it is a lot easier to do when there is a badge with a name on it.

It’s little more than common sense. Bouncers are not peace officers, but in a sense, they are acting as cops. They are there, fundamentally, to keep the peace. They are big, sometimes intimidating and occasionally abuse the authority their employers vest in them. That job description suggests that, just as police officers wear badges, bouncers should also be identifiable and in some way registered.

The problem gained attention after the infamous Molly Pub’s incident, according to Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen, who led the latest licensing effort. Buffalo desperately needed an update in its requirements given its otherwise weak 2006 bouncer licensing law. The same could be said for the lax enforcement in Buffalo of the State Liquor Authority requirement that many bouncers be licensed by the state Department of State.

Background checks and approvals by the Buffalo Police Department – exempt if individuals are already licensed by the state – and an arguably nominal license cost of $35 for the city should add a level of assurance and accountability. The state requires eight hours of training and a $36 fee. These are reasonable costs that any prospective bouncer should be able to manage and, if not, then his prospective employer.

Had this measure been in place, it might have made some difference in the final horrible outcome at Molly’s Pub in May 2014 when Air National Guardsman William C. Sager Jr. was pushed down a flight of stairs headfirst by the manager, Jeffrey J. Basil. Basil eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter. The 28-year-old Sager, who suffered a devastating brain injury, died in Erie County Medical Center the following July.

Two off-duty Buffalo police officers who worked as bar security at the establishment when the incident occurred quickly found themselves under scrutiny. Police officials suspended both officers. The department went further in banning officers from providing bar security, including outdoors. One of the officers in question, Robert E. Eloff, was indicted for allegedly arresting someone at the scene “who had done nothing wrong,” according to the recent News article.

There have been other incidents recounted in previous News articles of incidents in the Elmwood Avenue area, Chippewa Street and, over the years, suburbs of bouncers who refused to identify themselves and, in some instances threatened patrons attempting to record encounters with their cellphones.

The Common Council made a step in the right direction with this new measure.