The late-night parking-lot brawl in downtown Brockton drew every police officer on duty.
Eleven cruisers were on the scene that night, March 12, responding to a “melee” at the far end of the lot behind Joe Angelo’s Cafe & Deli.
The enormity of the fight and response led Councilor-at-large Tom Brophy to wonder: What if police were needed somewhere else?
“The fact that every cruiser in the city was downtown puts everybody else in jeopardy,” Brophy said. “We don’t have the personnel to deal with this. They’re all tied up, and (what) if there’s something happening at your house?”
The fight, in which two people were stabbed and four arrested, as well as a second fight three weeks later, has Brophy and other officials reconsidering whether Brockton bars should be allowed to stay open to 2 a.m.
Brophy pushed in 2006 for the city’s License Commission to close all city bars between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., but the effort failed. He also tried, unsuccessfully, to get a similar home-rule petition passed in the city council in 2009. The petition would have closed bars at 1 a.m.
Brophy said he intends to renew his effort this year and take his case before the License Commission, which has undergone significant changeover since 2006.
It won’t be easy.
Mayor takes stand
Mayor Linda Balzotti opposes the broad ban. Instead, she supports the License Commission approach of examining each case and each bar individually. After the March 12 fight, Balzotti said she didn’t think there was a systemic problem with the city’s bars that required such drastic moves.
“Those owners that run afoul of licensing issues are dealt with,” Balzotti said. “I don’t know that we have a collective problem.”
License holders agree.
“It’s a complicated problem and will require a complicated solution,” said Chris Charlot, owner of Tamboo Bistro on Main Street, just down the street from Joe Angelo’s. “We live in a violent society – it’s not just the 2 a.m. When it happens late at night, it’s more sensational.
“We try to simplify: Since the crime happened in back of Joe Angelo’s, (we say) it’s a time issue or a bar issue,” he said.
But Charlot said each establishment should take responsibility for its own impact on the neighborhood.
He said Tamboo “filters” its crowd with a strict dress code, upscale attitude and pricier fare.
“That makes a difference,” Charlot said. “Already it sets the tone. For a person looking to be immature, they wouldn’t come here.”
A citywide reduction in bar hours, or even a reduction for his bar alone, bothers Joe Angelo. He said he doesn’t
understand why he would be punished for the actions of his patrons, especially after they’ve left his property.
“How can you be responsible for something that happened outside?” he said. “How about making people responsible for themselves? Let’s be tough on them in court rather than busting the business man.”
A city’s last call
Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz argues that closing Brockton bars at 1 a.m. is not about one bar breaking the rules. It’s about changing a policy that keeps Brockton bars open later than others in the area, in effect making the city the region’s last-call destination.
“You’re inviting other people to come into your community, and we see the (crime) numbers start to spike when you invite other people in,” Cruz said.
Closing earlier, he said, “would prevent crime and ease the burden on the Brockton police when they have limited resources themselves.”
Brophy puts it plainly: Brockton should not be the only place in the area where a bar can stay open until 2 a.m.
“The fact that two of the people arrested (in last month’s melee) were from out of town is indicative of (that). We don’t need other people’s problems.”
Police Chief William Conlon said police lack the manpower “to be baby-sitters for some of the problem bars on the midnight shift.”
But he stops short of saying all bars should close at 1 a.m..
“I don’t want to punish the responsible establishments that handle their responsibilities as they should and are cognizant of the needs of their neighbors. But those that don’t, we need to figure out a way to deal with it,” Conlon said. “If there’s a reluctance to change from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m., then roll back the ones that have shown they don’t handle it well.”
Conlon would not say whether he feels Joe Angelo’s is one of those places, but said he “wouldn’t be disappointed” if its hours were reduced.
Ward 2 Councilor Tom Monahan, whose district includes downtown, said the problem gets magnified because it’s in downtown Brockton.
“Closing at 2 a.m. I don’t think is going to be the answer,” he said.
Instead, he recommended that bars stop admitting new customers at midnight or 12:30 a.m. Current practice in the city is to shut the doors to new patrons at 1 a.m.
“That would be a better solution,” Monahan said.
LAST CALL PROBLEMS
Six downtown area bars have 2 a.m. licenses. Here are the number of police calls each establishment drew since 2008 from 1 to 3 a.m.
Cardoso Cafe, 146 Montello Street, 141 calls.
Joe Angelo’s Cafe and Deli, 11 Crescent St., 90 calls.
Tamboo Bistro, 252 Main St., 131 calls.
Cristal Restaurant, 250 Main St., 31 calls.
GiGi’s Pub, 189 Crescent St., 29 calls.
Source: Brockton police