, Salem, MA

October 2, 2012

Brawl leads to police crackdown

Salem chief: 'We will fix this'


---- — SALEM — Salem police plan to crack down on city bars after a stabbing and brawl early Saturday morning, the second major incident in the past month outside downtown drinking establishments.

“We share the frustration of people who live down there,” said police Chief Paul Tucker. “We will address this and we will fix this, whatever it takes.”

In addition to speaking to bar owners, police say they will beef up forces this weekend.

“I think it’s safe to say there’s going to be a larger police presence down there,” said Capt. Brian Gilligan. “I think we have to send a message to patrons and the people operating these establishments that it’s just not going to be tolerated.”

The two most serious incidents took place when the Friday night crowds spilled out of the bars around 1 a.m.

This past weekend, a man was stabbed during a fight on Washington Street involving a crowd estimated at 50 people. The victim was taken to Salem Hospital with a wound that was not life-threatening, police said.

On Sept. 8 — again early on a Saturday morning — eight young men, most in their mid-20s, were arrested after police responded to a fight on Washington Street involving about 20 individuals.

On other weekends this fall, police have dealt with a number of skirmishes in the downtown, which attracts hundreds of young people on weekends.

There also have been incidents of property damage and vandalism on weekend nights, police said. Rouge Cosmetics on Derby Street, for example, has reported hundreds of dollars in damage to planters and shrubs.

“It’s not good,” said Rosemary O’Connor, head of the Mack Park Neighborhood Association, an active community organization. “It gives the city a bad reputation.” Although other establishments have been linked to bar problems in recent years, Bangkok Paradise, a Washington Street restaurant, was mentioned by police this past weekend. According to a police report, the fights “involved Bangkok’s patrons” and the bar’s bouncers were “ineffective or unwilling” to disperse the crowd.

An owner of Bangkok Paradise disputed that account. With so many restaurants downtown attracting hundreds of young people, he said, it was not fair to single out one place. He also defended his doormen’s actions.

A lawyer for the business issued a statement saying the “unfortunate incident” occurred “across Washington Street in front of what used to be the Greenland Cafe.”

“The nature and cause of that incident is unknown,” the statement said. “However, once aware of the incident, the trained Bangkok Paradise staff knew better than to run across Washington Street to blindly get involved and risk serious injury. To be clear, the incident did not occur in the Bangkok Paradise, nor on its premises, and the personnel and staff did not act inappropriately at any time with respect to this matter.”

Police, however, appear to be drawing a link between the restaurant and last weekend’s trouble.

“I think you’d almost be negligent to ignore the fact that at least part of it is emanating from that location,” Gilligan said.

In recent weeks, that establishment has come under increased scrutiny.

The city’s Licensing Board is holding a hearing on Bangkok Paradise next Tuesday on issues stemming from a Sept. 1 incident.

Before this weekend, Gilligan said police will be communicating with the owners of a number of bars.

“We’re definitely going to be looking at a variety of options,” he said. “There’s going to be kind of a zero-tolerance policy down there.”

In 2008, police had to deal with a similar situation in the downtown, leading to a crackdown on another Washington Street establishment. At that time, under the leadership of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, downtown bars contributed to a fund used to hire extra police officers on weekends. They also adopted a get-tough policy, which imposed a six-month ban on any patron arrested, placed in protective custody or involved in an incident.

The Salem Restaurant Task Force has decided to start up the “one-strike-you’re-out” policy again, according to Chamber Executive Director Rinus Oosthoek.

Tom Dalton can be reached at