In Downtown Salt Lake City Police And Clubs Work Together To Curb Violence

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This summer, Pierpont Avenue has been the scene of assaults and brawls that break out as people leave nightclubs in the early hours of the weekend. Businesses and the police are collaborating to stop the violence. On a recent Friday night, ten black-clad security personnel lingered close to an empty velvet line outside the Echo nightclub.

Under the green, leafy branches of shade trees that were sprouting from grates in the brick-lined sidewalk, they stood in an unorganized circle. As they prepared for the coming night, the sun barely continued to shine. Together, they would spend the next hours screening partygoers as they entered the conjoined dance clubs Echo and Karma, searching hundreds of luggage, and checking IDs.

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Ten more guards were stationed inside to watch customers. There would be rough twice as many guards on duty the following night—an additional 20 guards. Although there has always been security at the clubs, in recent months their owners have added additional armed guards and partnered with the police, who have intensified patrols in the neighborhood following two huge, violent brawls that broke out on the street this summer.

One additional club, the adjacent Sky SLC, is located on this brief length of Pierpont Avenue in the heart of Salt Lake City, between 200 West and West Temple. One man died last month after receiving a single random blow to the head, according to authorities, amid a weekly flood of people and customers, coupled with alcohol and egos. Others have been taken to the hospital.

The majority of problems don’t start on the dance floors. According to Salt Lake City police spokesperson Brent Weisberg, the sidewalks and parking lots that crowd with people after clubs close are the main problems. The Salt Lake City police have been working with business owners to find safety solutions for a number of months, with one officer serving as a liaison.

“Police presence is only one aspect of the answer. To solve these problems, we want assistance from locals and business owners, said Weisberg. They feel the same level of annoyance that we do. They do not want their places of business to be the scene of this kind of violence and illegal activities. Businesses have been told by police not to overserve customers and not to let in those who have already consumed too much alcohol.

Additionally, they have instructed workers to check customers for firearms. But according to Weisberg, there must also be some personal accountability. He remarked, “I mean, it’s hard sometimes. “I completely believe that tiny things can develop very rapidly when you have a lot of people, there’s a lot of excitement, and sometimes there’s definitely alcohol that’s involved.”

What’s Being Done?

One of two “security rooms” on the site is located inside Echo, past a dance floor’s spinning spotlights, through a plain door, and down many flights of stairs. Co-owner of the two clubs Douglas Kesler brought two jumping Labradoodles to a command center just before 10 p.m. on July 22. The dogs were afraid of the Pioneer Day fireworks but didn’t seem to mind the loud, constant pounding of bass coming from upstairs.

Kesler explained his predicament while giving careless pats to whatever dog’s nose he accidentally caught in his lap. “It’s going rampant, the gangs,” he added. It has gotten out of hand. He recently changed the dress code for the clubs to forbid wearing jerseys, headgear, or anything else that would suggest gang involvement. In addition to looking for apparent weapons, security has also been on the watch for concealed weaponry like cosmetics kits and another non-threatening façades.

The technology used by bouncers to scan IDs instantly tells employees when a name on the list of those wanted by police matches the ID being scanned. Staff can then call the police or deny admission to potential customers. Because, you know, went through a long period where we had no problems, we had kind of let ’em relax it a little bit, Kesler said. But the gang has arrived at the scene of the crime.

As the SLCPD works to replace staff lost to an exodus following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-police protests in 2020, Kesler pays four off-duty SLCPD officers $100 per hour to patrol a parking lot just south of the property. Kesler does this because he doesn’t want to be a “drain” on the department’s resources. He also largely relies on his security team to hold people until the police show up.

Although gang activity is a problem in the neighborhood, according to Weisberg, it’s not the only one. He asserted that there are always going to be some gang members or individuals connected to them wherever there is a sizable gathering of people. However, Weisberg continued, “what we observe is people who are absolutely allowing tiny difficulties to grow into much bigger problems.

Along with numerous clubs, the area also has a parking garage and paid street-level spots where hundreds of people can leave their cars before visiting any of the bars in the area, including those on Pierpont Avenue, which are all easily accessible from any direction. After hours, throngs frequently gathered in the parking lot next to Echo, Kesler said, wherever the night took folks. After clubs close, one approach to prevent tensions from rising is to remove individuals from the neighborhood.

Weisberg claimed that in July, police collaborated with property owners to limit traffic entering this block of Pierpont Avenue, closing the street to approaching traffic shortly before venues close. Additionally, they force vehicles parked in the lot across from Echo to exit onto West Temple and 300 South rather than Pierpont Avenue. According to him, the action has reduced the number of cars circling the street and encouraged crowds to leave for home.

Most Violent Offenses Reported On Weekends, Data Shows

Most Violent Offenses Reported On Weekends, Data Shows
Most Violent Offenses Reported On Weekends, Data Shows

Since 2020, the great majority of police calls for service have been made on weekends, according to a Salt Lake Tribune examination of the neighborhood. In 2021, there were 273 service requests for this block, up from 148 the year before. Police had been summoned to the neighborhood 115 times this year as of early July. The most frequently recorded offense is an assault, followed by a fight. Officers are typically called to investigate thefts or people suspected of prowling cars during the workweek.

Since Kesler took over the club at the beginning of the outbreak, he said there have only been two “incidents” there. One happened in 2020 when a man left the club and later returned with a gun and started shooting. As clubgoers frantically fled, an employee shot and killed that individual.

On June 5 of this year, someone smuggled a knife into the club and stabbed someone. That was the second incident. Few facts about the incident or the conflicts that broke out after customers departed have been made public by the police. Five people were hurt that night in the Pierpont area, and it has been stated that three of them were stabbed. No one has been taken into custody by police in relation to the stabbing in June.

A 19-year-old woman was detained outside the club by responding officers after they claimed she attempted to start a brawl while intoxicated. She allegedly assaulted an officer who broke up the altercation and threatened to “put a bullet in the officers’ brains,” according to a probable cause statement.

Kesler can view a live stream from cameras inside and outside the two clubs on two displays set on the plywood walls behind his desk. To understand how a knife entered the club that night, he spent hours watching security footage. He is still uncertain.
His cameras also captured the suspected attacker in the fatal assault on July 10. According to Kesler, the man stood across the street for over 40 minutes before hitting Yusuf Mohammed, 37, in the nearby parking lot.

Chargeable records specify Mohammed stayed in the parking lot after leaving Echo with a companion. After spending almost 30 minutes there, next to Mohammed’s car, some males approached them. The witness told police that he didn’t recognize the individuals and that one of them attacked him after Mohammed asked them, “What’s up?” Nearly two in the morning.

Mohammed was knocked to the ground by the force of the strike, falling to the ground unconscious. He was found by the police bleeding profusely from his lips and nose in the northwest part of the parking lot. He was brought to a hospital, but he passed away. The punch and ensuing fall, according to a medical examiner, shattered his skull. Blunt force trauma caused his death.

Keppel Penisini, age 21, was accused of second-degree felony manslaughter by Salt Lake County prosecutors. According to the charging documents, Mohammed was 5-foot-5 and weighed around 155 pounds, while Penisini is 6-foot-3 and almost 300 pounds.
According to a probable cause statement, Penisini admitted to police that he hit Mohammed after learning the older man had abused one of Penisini’s relatives.

That July night, officials reacted fast thanks to the off-duty police officers, additional patrols, and on-site security. However, Weisberg stated that with over 100 people in the streets, many of them in panic, active fights going on, and rumors of shooting, there is only so much law enforcement can do in such a “chaotic” scene. “Who knows what could happen if their backs are turned if they’re getting hands-on with someone and they don’t have enough backing officers,” he said. “So when we have these massive fights breaking out, it’s definitely a big officer safety concern,” said the officer.

Downtown Salt Lake City Councilwoman Ana Valdemoros expressed concern about crime in general in her district, but particularly in the areas that draw large crowds for entertainment and nightlife. The City Council places the utmost significance on proactive and preventive crime prevention, she said in a statement, and “we are making every effort to assure that.” “The behavior of a few handfuls does not characterize our downtown culture.”

She said that the council had partnered with the police to increase patrols in the neighborhood and that when the department’s staffing levels were stabilized, certain issues should be resolved. A group of SLCPD officers will complete their field training in the autumn, according to Weisberg, and after more than a year of training, they will be able to work solo patrol shifts. Weisberg claimed that the enhanced patrols appeared to be beneficial.

The same goes for adding more cops to support such patrols. Police can’t, however, solve every issue. If police are there, some people don’t mind. They continue to engage in “criminal activity” in spite of it. Echo’s other owner, Rob Joseph, concurred and noted that it appears that some people are feeling more confident. In front of six police officers, he continued, “we get people who will physically come outside and start a brawl.”

We ask ourselves, “Are you guys f——— nuts? ” while we stare at them. The police are present. They are indifferent. With Latin music on one side and hip hop on the other, Echo and Karma bills itself as the “unique and colorful nightclub” in the city. Kesler claimed that a large number of persons of various racial and national origins could be found upstairs from his workplace. The majority of them are younger and want a place to party and dance. He claimed that “99% of folks are here to have fun, and they do.” “The 1% just make it so miserable for them”.

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