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Bar owner warns about police powers

A businessman whose bar has a reputation for trouble said he hoped police powers to shut down licensed premises for 24 hours would not be abused.

Rick Olson, the owner of Bermuda Bistro at the Beach, added that temporary closure was “a very powerful tool” to ensure public safety.

But he said it should be exercised with caution because a 24-hour closure would hit the pockets not only of bar owners but also their staff.

Mr Olson, whose bar on Hamilton's Front Street has been linked to violent incidents in the past, was speaking after Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley ordered a 24-hour shut down of the bar at Bailey's Bay Cricket Club after a brawl outside the club earlier this month.

Bottles were thrown at officers during the incident and police were forced to use a Taser.

Mr Olson described the move, which was provided in the Liquor Licence Amendment Act 2010, as “a very powerful tool” but hoped it would not be misused.

Mr Olson said the power “certainly gets mentioned at our liquor licence hearings, that the police reserve that right and will utilise it if they feel it's in the best safety of the island, country or patrons to do that”.

But he added: “The question is, how is it utilised? Should the police have that much power? I think they should, it just can't be abused.

“It comes down to decisions and they're always subject to review. Hopefully, the police are very careful about how they do this, it does affect people's livelihood, not just the owner but also the people working there.”

Mr Olson said he was also concerned about the message that might be sent to tourists if bars are closed on safety grounds.

Bermuda Bistro at the Beach was among those highlighted by readers of The Royal Gazette in the online comments section of an article about the cricket club bar's 24-hour closure.

Some questioned why the Beach, and other bars, had not been hit with the same penalty.

Mr Olson said: “We've changed our ways a lot over the last few years. People kind of have the mindset that once you have that reputation, you have that reputation for life.”

He pointed out most of violent incidents in or around licensed premises in recent months involved sports or social clubs.

Mr Olson said bar owners worked hard to attract the right clientele. He also suggested the names of Front Street bars were often used as a reference point for incidents outside or near them, rather than inside.

A female staff member was sacked from the Beach last month after a violent incident that left a 27-year-old male visitor to the island in hospital.

Mr Olson said in a Facebook post at the time that he “deeply regretted” the incident and that “immediate action would be taken to prevent future problems”.

A man was attacked and robbed in the bar's restroom in 2016 by a group of four strangers who snatched a chain from the victim's neck.

Desmond Crockwell, an anti-violence campaigner, said he hoped the shut down of the bar at Bailey's Bay, where he was a youth director for about ten years, was not a “kneejerk reaction”.

He added: “I think the wisdom comes in the follow-up.”

Mr Crockwell said he wanted 24-hour, “high-tech” surveillance at hotspots and that there needed to be a joint effort between bar operators and the Government.

He added: “We need to see a lot of anti-violence messages at our sports games.”

Mr Crockwell said “It's when someone passes away that we all have a reaction, when the deaths slow down, so does the attention to the reaction.

“That's why I believe that there needs to be a partnership in promoting this message consistently because consistency is definitely the key when it comes to getting the message out.”

He also advocated for specialist training of Royal Bermuda Regiment troops to act as an “elite” force that could patrol premises during certain functions or events.

Mr Corbishley earlier told the Gazette that enforcement action such as a temporary bar closure would be “considered on a case-by-case basis, subject to proper assessment of the facts”.

Bermuda Bistro: Rick Olson (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published September 27, 2018 at 9:00 am (Updated September 27, 2018 at 7:52 am)

Bar owner warns about police powers

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