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Back to Archives | Back to May 2008 Contents 

Formulating Best Practicies for Nightlife Establishments

By Raymond W. Kelly, Police Commissioner of the City of New York

fter a series of events that culminated in the separate murders of two young women who had visited popular nightclubs prior to their deaths, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) was determined to address issues of crime and disorder associated with bars and clubs in New York City. To achieve this important goal, the NYPD stepped up police presence in the vicinity and used civil enforcement measures to close clubs where violations had been documented. The NYPD also formed a partnership with the New York Nightlife Association to consider jointly how to tackle problems. The working group that was organized consists of a cross-section of the nightlife industry and represents a range of bars and clubs of varying sizes. The NYPD group, chaired by the Executive Officer of the Chief of Department, included members from the Civil Enforcement Unit, Vice Enforcement Division, and Patrol Services Bureau. The working group meetings established new lines of communication and provided a forum for direct and candid dialogue between the nightlife industry and the NYPD.

As the meetings progressed, the working group decided to formulate a set of best practices in order to guide the nightlife industry in making itself more accountable and preventing the kind of crime and disorder problems that bring it into conflict with law enforcement agencies. The working group also reviewed current NYPD policies for the deployment of police personnel and types of tactics used when entering an establishment. The working group review was also instrumental in garnering a better understanding of issues involving the civil enforcement process of nuisance abatement. As a result of this partnership, the working group proposed these multiprong approaches to improving patron, employee, and officer safety at bars and clubs in New York City:

  • Develop a set of best-practice ideas to provide guidelines to help the nightlife industry better protect the public and itself.

  • Present the best practices to the nightlife industry through working group panelists and follow this with an “open-mic” question-and-answer session.

  • Develop and administer training to NYPD members who regularly interact with nightlife establishments. Training will review the best practices, relevant sections of law, tactical issues, and interaction with other governmental agencies.

  • Offer properly licensed nightclub security personnel the opportunity to attend similar training at the New York City Police Academy.

The best practices provide solid suggestions for preventing illegal and dangerous activity in nightlife settings, as well as guidance for dealing with serious criminal incidents in a manner that will assist law enforcement responders and investigators. Following the best practices, however, does not offer assurance that police will not take enforcement action at a bar or club because of crime or disorderly conditions taking place. But the working group believes that nightlife establishments that enact these best practices will have fewer problems and be better prepared to deal with incidents if they occur.

The best practices have been published in two forms, a large booklet and a pocketsized pamphlet, and are also available on the NYPD Web site.1 The best-practices pamphlet produced by the working group is comprehensive and addresses many aspects of nightlife safety, including the use of security personnel, magnetometers, and ID scanning devices. The pamphlet also discusses ways to deter underage drinking and improve relationships between the nightlife venue and its local police precinct. A model Incident Report—a universal information-gathering tool designed to assist nightlife management and security personnel, as well as law enforcement officers, in obtaining and recording information critical to investigating an incident—is also included.

Industry Briefing

As part of an overall strategy to reduce crime and disorder in nightlife establishments, the NYPD wanted to share the best practices with nightlife owners and managers throughout the city. To that end, the NYPD and Nightlife Association working group scheduled a town hall–style briefing for the nightlife industry to answer its questions. NYPD precinct commanding officers were directed to contact nightlife establishments within their jurisdictions and extend an invitation to attend the briefing session, held at the auditorium at NYPD headquarters.

Best Practices

A total of 60 best practices were developed, 47 of which apply to security, employees, age verification, club policies, and police-community relations. The other 13 pertain to reporting crimes, including physical and sexual assaults. The best practices are broken down as follows.


As a general guideline, there should be a minimum of one licensed and trained security guard in every premise when 75 or more patrons are present at the same time. For larger premises, there should be one such security guard for every 75 club patrons present. Any full-time security supervisor shall be included when counting the total number of security guards employed. Discretion should be used by management to determine the appropriate number of security based on the event or crowd to ensure safety and lawfulness.

If the establishment uses the services of a security guard company rather than employing its own security guards, the security guard company must be licensed by a government entity if possible.

Security guards should be trained in techniques to de-escalate potential violent encounters and difficult situations.

Establishment policy should mandate that security personnel separate and remove all potentially violent patrons in a manner consistent with the law in order to prevent a continuation of violent activity inside or outside the club. Establishments must call 9-1-1 to report criminal activity and may call 9-1-1 or otherwise notify police for assistance in these circumstances. Similarly, they should call 9-1-1 to report serious medical emergencies such as drug overdoses.

It is recommended that for every five security guards there be one security supervisor, to ensure a minimal span of control—no more than one security supervisor for every five subordinates.

It is recommended that security guards be distinctively and uniformly attired—that is, very easily identified.

It is recommended that security guards be distributed evenly throughout the establishment and not just at the door.

Coat check should include the customer’s ability to check bags. It is recommended that establishments install antitheft environmental designs such as drawers, shelves, and hooks for customers who choose not to check bags. Establishment personnel should ensure that control and order is maintained in the coat check area, especially at closing time. Customers should be encouraged to check coats and bags to avoid thefts.

Perpetrators should be detained by security through lawful means. Witnesses should be encouraged to wait for the police to arrive in order to assist in the investigation. At a minimum, they should be asked to provide their identifying information so that they can be contacted by the police in the future. They should also be encouraged to make a statement to establishment personnel regarding the incident, if the establishment so requests. Establishments should act as complainants in appropriate cases.

Establishments should encourage employee witnesses to go to court and testify when requested and should pay wages to them for their time.

Digital video of any unlawful conduct should be identified and provided to the police when requested.

Identifying information on ejected and/or arrested patrons should be retained on a “banned list” database. These patrons should not be allowed subsequent reentry.

It is recommended that properly working and maintained digital cameras be mounted in front of the establishment (both inside and outside), at all entry doors, and outside the bathroom doors.

It is helpful to learn if all of these efforts are working. To that end, establishments should hire an independent security consultant to ensure club security and to see that the establishment is adhering to other laws and policies, including laws prohibiting sales to minors.

Establishments should ensure that levels of lighting inside and outside the establishment are sufficient for observation by security.

All those awaiting admission should be placed in a line that does not block the sidewalk. All individuals in admission lines should be informed that if they are not orderly, they will not be admitted. Individuals who will not be admitted should be encouraged to leave the area.

At closing, security should ensure orderliness when patrons are exiting the establishment.

If metal detectors are used, every patron should be subjected to magnetometer searches in accordance with establishment policy. VIPs, DJs, entourages, and so on should not receive special treatment.

Establishments should safeguard evidence connected with the commission of a crime on the premises and should maintain the integrity of any crime scene.

Spot checks of employees should be conducted to ensure compliance with establishment policies and applicable laws and rules, including integrity tests for false IDs and underage sales.

Management should know and make readily available the telephone number of the local precinct and the name of the commander of the precinct cabaret squad, if applicable.


All employees must have a photo ID on file in the location, with a description of their positions and contact information.

Establishments should also have contact information for all individuals contracted to provide operational services, such as DJs and promoters.

There must be a person designated to be in charge of the premises. The name and phone number of both the manager and the person designated to be in charge of the premises, if different, during the hours of operation, must be available to appropriate government agencies.

Clean-up crews should be designated for inside and outside the establishment. All flyers, handbills, cups, debris, and so on should be cleaned from in front of the premises throughout the night.

Specific employees should be designated to conduct occupancy counts periodically throughout the night.

Managers should identify themselves to responding government agencies.

Age Verification

The use of ID scanning machines is strongly recommended. Although they do not reject legal IDs used by other individuals, nor are they foolproof in rejecting fake IDs, they are extremely helpful in recording who is entering the establishment.

Some machines are able to perform the following tasks:

  • Verify if an ID is valid (alcoholic beverage control laws may require government-issued ID only)

  • Record notes to identify problem patrons

  • Retain ID information for a 14-day minimum; this information must be turned over or made available to a law enforcement agency on request and in some circumstances may be used in defending a charge of serving a minor

Digital video cameras and ID scanners, when used, should be time-stamped so that ID scanning information can be compared to video footage of patrons entering the club.

Scanning machines are not to be used for marketing or advertising.

Club Policies

Club policies should be clear and well-known.

Establishments should not admit anyone under 21, except for establishments operating primarily as restaurants during those hours in which meals are served.

If bottle purchases are allowed, establishments should not admit anyone under 21. Establishments must take sufficient steps to ensure that tables are closely monitored to prevent underage drinking or overconsumption.

An establishment policy handbook should be in the premises at all times and should be distributed to all employees. To the degree practicable, the handbook should incorporate the guidelines suggested in this article. The handbook should inform all employees how to handle the following situations, which arise frequently and often lead to problems:

  • Illnesses or injuries

  • Fights

  • Patrons refusing a search or pat-down

  • Disorderly patrons

  • False IDs

  • Drug use

  • Citizen arrests

  • Recovered weapons

The establishment policy handbook should also include the following information:

  • An emergency evacuation plan

  • An exit plan—gradual staged exit at closing to ensure orderliness

  • Guidelines on maintaining order outside the premises

A professional-looking sign containing a patron code of conduct should be displayed inside the establishment.

When an establishment has residential neighbors on the same block, a sign should be posted encouraging patrons to be quiet and sensitive to the neighbors.

All permits must be kept up to date and readily available if needed.

Management should ensure adherence to club policies.

If a criminal incident occurs, an incident report listing full details should be generated and maintained for three years. A form that can be used for this purpose is attached to the best practices report available at the NYPD Web site.

Relations between Police and the Community

A list of all scheduled events should be sent to the community affairs officer in the local precinct. In the case of a special event, such as a celebrity performance or party, 72 hours notice, when possible, should be given to the local precinct, and the establishment should ensure that adequate and additional security personnel are employed to meet the specific expected number of attendees.

Each establishment should have a search policy and adhere to it. (This may vary from “no one is searched” to “all bags are searched,” to “random searches are conducted,” to “everyone is searched.”) This ensures that upon arrival, the precinct commander and the officers will have a basis to know if the occupants have been searched and what, if anything, was found.

Representatives of establishments are welcome at precinct community council meetings and should attend as many as possible.

The precinct commander and establishment owners should meet as necessary in order to discuss with each other operational issues, solutions to common problems, problem locations, and so on.

Response to Serious Criminal Incidents: The Crime Scene

These best practices are designed to apply to serious criminal incidents, usually violent assaults, including sexual offenses. For these purposes, assaults are deemed serious when the victim of a physical assault is dead, unconscious, or obviously in need of immediate medical treatment for a serious or life-threatening injury, such as a stabbing or slashing.

This is more serious in nature than a bar fight that causes only minor injuries. An exception to this general rule is sexual assault crimes, where the victim might not have visible injuries. Sexual assaults are serious criminal incidents and as such fall within the purview of these guidelines.

Preincident Guidelines:

  • All establishments should maintain a list of all employees and independent contractors (such as DJs, promoters, and other entertainers) who are present on any individual night. Also maintained should be the contact information for these employees and contractors to aid in contacting them as part of a postincident investigation.

  • Establishments should request and maintain contact information for a representative of any private group who holds a function or event at the establishment.

Postincident Guidelines:

  • Employees should call 9-1-1 immediately.

  • Establishments should make clear to all managers, employees, and private contractors that they are expected to tell the truth to police investigators.

  • The crime scene should not be cleaned up; it should be protected from any changes. Crime scenes can be protected by temporarily surrounding them with velvet ropes or yellow “Caution” tape using chairs, rope stanchions, or even potted plants to support the tape. To this end, inexpensive yellow “Caution” tape should be kept in the establishment.

  • Nightlife establishment employees should be aware that important physical evidence might not be readily visible or obvious. Incidents involving sexual assaults will rarely have recognizable evidence at the scene of the occurrence. Establishments should therefore “overprotect” the area of the crime by safeguarding an area larger than they initially believe the crime scene to cover.

  • Establishments should immediately identify and preserve financial transaction information for all parties involved or who are believed to be witnesses. This includes debit and credit transactions.

  • Involved parties or witnesses should be detained if possible. There are several techniques to accomplish this, from asking them to stay to offering them complimentary admission on a subsequent date, to asking for and retaining their IDs and giving them to the responding police officers.

  • Establishments should know what parking facilities are commonly used by their patrons and should provide this information to police investigators.

  • If perpetrators or witnesses leave, a description of the vehicle in which they left (with license plate number), the direction in which and the means by which they left, and the identity or description of any people with whom they left should be provided to the responding police officers.

  • The table or area where the involved parties sat or stood—including their beverage glasses, utensils, and any other evidence—should be preserved and left untouched inside the club. This material should be identified to the responding police officers immediately. Employees of nightlife establishments should be cognizant that in certain circumstances, tampering with physical evidence can be a crime.

  • Video footage of people inside the club during the evening the crime took place should be preserved for the police, even if it appears to have no probative value. Often these videos can be enhanced to reveal important evidence. To increase the usefulness of these images in establishments, which are often dark, one area of the club, such as a hallway immediately outside the restrooms, should have enhanced lighting. This will make the images of people passing through that area more identifiable. It is recommended that properly working and maintained digital cameras be mounted in front of the establishment (both inside and outside), at all entry doors, and outside the bathroom doors. Digital video footage should be recorded, maintained, and provided to the responding police investigators.

  • ID scanner information should be preserved and made available to the responding police officers.

  • Serious assaults should always be the subject of a uniform incident report completed by a managerial-level employee of the establishment who was present at the time of the incident. This manager need not be a witness to the incident but is responsible for interviewing the witnesses and completing the report. The report should be maintained by the establishment for the minimum time frame of the statute of limitations for negligence lawsuits.

  • Obviously, these best practices apply to serious incidents that occur inside the establishments. However, important evidence may exist inside the establishment even if the crime occurs outside the establishment; therefore, there will be circumstances where these best practices apply to incidents that take place outside of the establishment. For example, if the parties involved in an assault were in the establishment before the assault, and the assault subsequently took place outside of the establishment, the evidence that the involved parties left behind must be safeguarded. This includes the following:

  • Financial records of their purchases

  • Video images of the involved parties

  • Images of scanned IDs

  • Glasses and utensils used by the involved parties, which may yield identifying information such as fingerprints and DNA

  • Observations of witnesses, which may aid in the subsequent identification of involved parties

Beyond Best Practices

Beyond the best practices, the working group addressed not only what the nightlife industry could do better but what the NYPD could do better as well.

One of the concerns was a perception that police officers called to a club or bar due to a crime or other incident were automatically issuing summonses for “disorderly premises” without regard to whether the management was actually at fault. These concerns led to a larger review of the NYPD’s response to licensed premises.

As a result, the NYPD has issued an order clarifying the circumstances under which a summons may be issued for a “disorderly premise,” and precinct commanders are accountable for ensuring that these summonses are properly issued. In addition, procedures were developed to establish a review process, conducted at the next higher level of command, that would perform the following functions:

  • Develop strategies to address conditions at problematic clubs and bars

  • Provide oversight of specialized units who perform enforcement duties at clubs and bars

  • Conduct quarterly meetings to share information and review police incidents with local police commanders and other interested parties (such as establishment owners, other government agencies, business association representatives, and specialized police enforcement units)

To improve the reporting of incidents that occur at clubs and bars, an NYPD captain now responds to such incidents and directs the preparation of a report detailing the incident. This report becomes part of the overall review and can form the basis for preparing a summons, if appropriate.


The New York City Police Academy developed a one-day training program for members of the NYPD who routinely come into contact with clubs and bars. The training included a review of the best practices as well as other legal and practical issues such as the role of the New York State Liquor Authority.

In addition, an eight-hour training course is being developed to educate bar and nightclub security personnel on the best practices guidelines. The seminar is open to security personnel who have completed a state-certified security course, and it covers many of the topics outlined in the best practices booklet as well as the New York State Penal Law sections that discuss the use of force. The course also discusses the role of the New York State Liquor Authority and covers issues that security personnel and managers would frequently encounter, such as underage drinking, after-hours consumption or sale of alcohol, penalties associated with violations, license suspension and revocations, and the employment of felons. In addition, the course will discuss police-community relations, specifically to include an establishment’s responsibility to notify the local police precinct prior to holding events as well as the inclusion of club managers and/or owners at local community board meetings.


The NYPD and New York Nightlife Association working group will continue to work together and discuss matters of mutual interest in the future. The NYPD believes that the best practices will enable the nightlife industry to provide a safer environment for its patrons and employees while helping the NYPD to address disorderly premise conditions or to investigate serious criminal incidents. ■   


1New York City Police Department, Best Practices for Nightlife Establishments, October 2007, (accessed March 28, 2008).



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 5, May 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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