After two women were abducted from Boston nightspots, one of whom was found dead days later in Delaware, more than 200 people packed a South Boston union hall Tuesday afternoon to discuss patron safety.
Police Commissioner William G. Gross invited the owners of bars and clubs and other liquor license holders to the meeting to discuss best practices, safety strategies, and other steps to foster secure environments.
“This is all to send a clear-cut message that enough’s enough,” Gross said following the meeting, which was closed to the news media. “There are predators out there. There are hunters out there.”
As a step toward improving safety, business owners, law enforcement, and licensing authorities will form a working group to continue public safety discussions, Gross said.
The meeting came one day after Louis D. Coleman III of Providence was arraigned on a kidnapping charge in US District Court in Boston.
Coleman, 32, allegedly abducted Jassy Correia, 23, after she left the Venu nightclub in the Theatre District early on Feb. 24.
Four days later, her body was found in a suitcase in the trunk of a car that police had pulled over on Interstate 95 in Wilmington, Del.
Correia died a little more than a month after another 23-year-old woman had vanished after leaving Hennessy’s, a bar near Faneuil Hall, on Jan. 19. She was allegedly held captive for three days in a Charlestown apartment by Victor Pena, 38.
Police made a dramatic rescue of the woman, whose name is being withheld because she’s an alleged victim of sexual assault.
Pena faces charges that include kidnapping and three counts of aggravated rape.
On Tuesday, Gross referenced both cases.
“Too many tragedies have occurred,” he said.
During the meeting, proprietors wanted to know if their establishments could be cited if they reported an incident or suspicious behavior, Gross said.
The discussion turned to the city establishing a “better means of documenting when someone has cooperated with us,” he said.
“That’s only fair,” he added.
In years past, bars in Boston have faced punitive action if they contact police about a problem, said City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
That had a chilling effect on establishments calling 911, because a police response would be likely to trigger a license violation. Being cited for a violation would mean that the owner would have to attend a hearing and hire an attorney, Flaherty said.
Flaherty said it would be a “new day” in the city if establishments can contact the authorities without fear of punishment.
“It was very refreshing to hear the police commissioner renew a partnership with bar, restaurant, and nightclub owners,” Flaherty said. “This, hopefully, is going to result in a better and safer experience for patrons and establishment owners alike.”
Gross mentioned that there are people who hang out outside of clubs at closing time and don’t go into the establishments. “We want to send a message to folks that do that: We’re watching you,” Gross said. “All of us.”
He also stressed the importance of video surveillance systems and driver’s license scanners. In the two recent attacks on young women. video footage was instrumental in the investigations, he said.
“We’re talking about saving lives,” Gross said.
Attendance at the meeting was voluntary for restaurant, bar, and club owners, police said. Personnel from the Boston Police Department, State Police, MBTA Transit Police, and the city’s Licensing Board attended, Gross said.
After the meeting, Jeff Goldenberg, general manager of the House of Blues, stressed the importance of timely information-sharing.
“It’s a time for all of us to come together,” he said after the meeting.
“It takes a village. The safety of not just our guests, but also of our staff, is important to all of us.”