Police: Club hopping with the boys in blue

‘The Post’ accompanies TA police on a tour of nightclub districts, where every night has its surprises.

Police question youth outside club 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Police question youth outside club 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Walking into a nightclub with police is a strange feeling; but it is not without its advantages. People look at you funny, a bit uneasily. On the other hand, you pass through “selection” instantly and no one tells you not to take their picture. Also, for some reason, bouncers and club managers will shake your hand; a first for this reporter.
Last Thursday, The Jerusalem Post accompanied Ch-Supt. Shimon Nachmani, operations officer in the Yarkon subdistrict of the Tel Aviv police, and Ch.-Insp. Ervin Scagio, of the police licensing department, during a patrol in the nightclub areas of the subdistrict, which include the posh mega-clubs of the port as well as the grimier bars of Allenby.
As he tools around the port in his police cruiser, Scagio explains how at night police deploy according to “hot spots” – areas where they know there is a higher than average number of violent incidents, a model made famous in the New York of then-mayor Rudy Guiliani, who is still widely admired in Israel. In each of these areas, police are reinforced by a team of three YASSAM special patrol officers and often a small detachment of border patrolmen, as well as undercover officers checking for drunk drivers and underage drinking.
Scagio, who joined the Tel Aviv police 15 years ago after running a rehab center for juvenile offenders in Herzliya, says there’s very little serious crime in the district or in Tel Aviv in general these days, but that things can always happen, and every night has its surprises.
In and around the port, Scagio can break down a timeline of nightclubs that closed down largely because they presented what police said was a disturbance to the general public. This includes the Posicat strip club, which moved to the Coliseum last year, largely through cooperation with police, who Scagio said worked with the club owners to move the club to a place where it would not pose a quality-of-life problem for the neighborhood.
Scagio pointed out a building in the port that used to host the Van Gogh nightclub before police asked the courts to close it down due to what Scagio said was the club’s very young crowd and the high volume of alcohol it sold. Later on, the same building became The Gazoz, which Scagio said had applied for a license as a restaurant but ran primarily as a nightclub before the courts closed it this year. Today, the building remains shuttered, a monument to nightclubs of summers gone by.
There appears to be an easy and friendly banter between Scagio and the club owners, though this might be related to the fact that one side – the one dressed in blue – holds the ability to cause some serious setbacks for the other. Regardless, when he enters the clubs, Scagio is greeted warmly and taken to check the digits on a machine next to the door that gives a digital readout of the occupancy of the club, to make sure that club owners aren’t violating fire safety codes.
At the London Mini-store complex, over 200 people throng the entrance to a club where security guards and rope lines block their entry. The security guards give no quarter and the crowd only grows. As the crowd parts for Scagio, he enters and talks to the owner, who shows him the packed dance floor and the numbers on the digital ticker. This moment seems to prove that when the bouncers tell you the club is full, they might not be just “face-checking” you.
While violent crime rates do climb during the summer, popularly known as “the killing season,” winter presents its own hazards, according to Scagio.
“There is a difference between the music line-ups in the summer and the winter. In the summer, they’re trying to draw a nicer, older crowd, a more high-quality crowd of people and in the winter time it changes.”
He says that in the winter time the clubs go inside and change the music line-ups. Scagio would not confirm whether that means they play more Eastern music, which typically the background music at Israeli weddings,and widely stereotyped as the music playing in the background when liquored-up Israeli guys lose their judgment and come to blows.
According to a paper handed out by the police spokesman for Tel Aviv, police see violence in nightclubs as “a ticking time bomb” involving the use of alcohol and drugs and “indifference to the lives of others.”
The paper says that while police don’t see an increase in the prevalence of nightclub violence, the gravity and severity of many of the crimes involved has risen. According to police, youths who use violence “do so out of an urge that lacks judgment, which can explain why a young man will stab another man even when he knows there is a police officer around the corner.”
At the same time, they say that the efforts “have borne fruit,” arguing that most of the clubs in which violent incidents took place have been closed and those suspects involved in acts of serious violence are today behind bars.
Scagio patrols the port and the Allenby area on this night with Nachmani, who was appointed operations officer in the Yarkon subdistrict in March of 2010, after two-and-a-half years as the chief of police of Sderot. Nachmani, a 44-year-old father of five who lives in Rishon Lezion, served in Sderot during some of the roughest days in the rocket-battered city, including Operation Cast Lead.
When asked what it was like being the chief of police of Sderot, Nachmani appeared to light up, asking, “did you see the [presidential] debate this week between Obama and Romney? You know how he said, ‘I visited Sderot when I came to Israel’? He was with me in my office – I gave him a Kassam!” Like any police commander or local politician in Sderot in recent years, Nachmani saw no shortage of visits by VIPs looking to get their pictures taken in the town that has become a symbol of Israel’s vulnerable home-front. Still, he said something stuck out about the future US president during that July 2008 visit.
“He wasn’t there just to say, ‘OK, I came and I saw, time to go.’ No. He really asked all types of questions, eye-to-eye, and you could tell he was doing it because he cared.”
Other than the Obama visit, the thing that stood out to Nachmani was a feeling that being a police officer in Sderot during some of the hardest days the city has gone through was “a sort of mission, where you’re sent to be there for a public that needs you.”
Long before he was dispatched to Sderot, however, Nachmani served in Tel Aviv from 2001 to 2004and was head of the Tel Aviv branch of the YASSAM special patrol unit during some of the darkest days of the second intifada.
“There’s not a single point in the city that doesn’t remind me of something that happened during those years,” Nachmani says, pointing toward the Dolphinarium discotheque, where he had been on the scene on the night of June 1, 2001, when a suicide bomber killed 21 Israeli teenagers.
“You take it with you; you can’t help it,” he says as the squad car turns up Yona Hanavi Street. Here he points to a corner where he says a homeless man called police during the second intifada to report having stolen a bag from the beach only to discover that it contained a bomb.
Nachmani and Scagio make their way to Allenby Street, where they park near the corner of Ben-Yehuda, an area they call “the triangle.” This location is more problematic, Nachmani says, because it is thick with bars where people go for their “bilui bet,” their second destination after they’ve already spent the earlier hours of the night partying elsewhere. The crowd is out later and drunker than usual, and thick with foreign workers, “minority members” and “young people from east Jerusalem,” the latter two being code words for “Arabs.”
After stepping out of the car, Nachmani and Scagio stand on the sidewalk as a group of a half-dozen teenage boys walk by at a quickened pace, each of them clutching a beer and casting sideways glances.
Nachmani stops the group, all of them young men from east Jerusalem, and asks them to pour out their beers and pull out their IDs. Most of them comply, except for two young men who become a bit indignant before tossing their beers.
Less than a minute later, a 20-somethingyear- old man, heavy-set and dead drunk, staggers up the street, his face covered caked with blood and covered with cuts and bruises. His friends, walking with him, are also intoxicated and have blood on their shirts, and after being waved to a stop by Scagio, one of them begins shouting about “three Russian gorillas” who he says hit his friend for no reason. As Nachmani calls for a patrol car to come to the scene, the young men continue to shout and sway on the sidewalk, including the one with the battered face, who mouths off to a patrol cop and invades his personal space repeatedly.
The thought crosses my mind that at any moment the cops will put the bloodied man in cuffs and take him off to the drunk tank, or that – if this was America – he would have violated the cop’s personal space once, maybe twice, before getting put on the ground with a knee in his back.
Maybe it is partly due to the presence of a reporter with a large camera, but the police insist on speaking to the young man and insisting that he calm down, perhaps with the knowledge that he will probably suffer enough the next day when he looks in the mirror after the dulling effects of the alcohol wears off.
“He didn’t do anything. He was attacked and the people are gone. It could be he mouthed off to these guys and they beat him up, we don’t know,” Scagio says.
“We get on average dozens of these a night,” he adds, as the young man with the blood-drenched face steps away. It is 1:30 a.m. and the Thursday night crowd on Allenby Street is just getting started.