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VOL. 133 | NO. 125 | Friday, June 22, 2018

Testing a New Line

Security consultant experiments with Beale Street crowds

By Bill Dries

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Beale Street will be trying out new security measures this month as a task force reviewing the entertainment district continues to work on a better plan for the spring and summer weekend peak nights.

The new measures being tested will start this Friday and Saturday. They will include a different queueing system at the Second Street checkpoint to enter the district weekends after 10 p.m. up to the Labor Day weekend.

Beale Street no longer charges a cover fee to enter the district on Saturday nights after 10 during the spring and summer.

The security consultant hired by a city task force wants to test some ideas as it comes up with recommendations on how much is too much when it comes to people on Beale Street. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

The Memphis City Council voted to ban any cover charge. But the district, run for the city by the Downtown Memphis Commission, still maintains five checkpoints with private security staffers who use hand-held metal detectors to check for weapons.

“We’re going to do some tests on some of the suggestions that the consultant is making,” council and Beale Street task force chairman Berlin Boyd said this week.

The consultant, Event Risk Management Solutions, was hired by the task force and paid for using Beale Street cover charges the council took control of when it cut the $10 cover charge to $5 and then eliminated entirely.

ERMS principal Peter Ashwin is recommending a cover charge during the peak.

A report by ERMS presented to the task force in May has 38 preliminary recommendations including “identify opportunities to deliver a financially sustainable safety and security budget for Beale Street.”

The report also recommends that Memphis Police and private security interact more with patrons using “proactive interaction … to reduce the potential of opportunity of offenders who wish to engage in harmful anti-social behaviors.” It also recommends that some police be moved “to support other strategic policing objectives for the city of Memphis.”

Ashwin’s recommendations are preliminary.

Some Beale Street merchants felt the cover charge was necessary to guarantee safety in the district. Others disagreed, saying the fee kept away people who simply wanted to walk the historic street.

Some council members said the cover charge was racially discriminatory by being aimed at black patrons on Saturday nights. A federal court lawsuit to that effect was dismissed when the cover charge was eliminated.

Boyd expects there will be more discussion on the cover charge and said his goal is “a good solution that will satisfy some but not the majority.”

Based on data from ID scans of Beale Street patrons at the checkpoints in 2016 and 2017, ERMS said 45 percent of the Saturday spring and summer night arrivals are at the Second Street checkpoint and 12 percent at the Fourth Street checkpoint. It added that 17 percent are at the B.B. King Boulevard north checkpoint, 15 percent at the B.B. King south checkpoint and 11 percent at the Hernando checkpoint across from the Peabody Place parking garage entrance.

The experiment this month will set up a queue along the Second Street sidewalks on both sides of Second into the checkpoint, have more lanes for the ID check and eliminate the crowding at the Second Street barrier that now funnels people into the checkpoint.

Security also will do more to point out other checkpoints that aren’t as crowded.

“Primarily it is to change the checkpoints, to get the crowd to move down the alleys and go toward another checkpoint, trying to control the flow,” Boyd said.

“Right now everyone seems to come in on Second Street – at Second and Beale. The lines are really long and it takes a long time to get everyone wanded. Now we are trying to flow that traffic further down the street,” he added.

The long lines are listed by ERMS as a risk to the district’s reputation. “Poor visitor experience due to overcrowding and excessing queue wait times at security screening points,” is how an ERMS presentation to the task force last month described the effect of the long lines.

The report also calls for setting a capacity limit for the district – “the number of people who can be safely accommodated” as well as a “formal crowd management plan for Beale Street to allow safe and efficient movement of visitors/patrons during ingress, circulation, egress and evacuation.”

The report recommends no less than 10 square feet per person in the district with the Beale maximum capacity calculated at five square feet.

By the five-square-feet model, the maximum capacity of the district including Handy Park but not people inside the clubs and businesses is 13,351. With the clubs and other businesses included, it is 20,000.

The report found that 44 percent of the 21- to 30-year-olds on Beale arrive from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The peak hours are from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m.

“Beale Street has become an interesting challenge. It’s different,” Boyd said. “But the key is just to try to make sure that we can see what will happen if we implement certain changes. Ultimately our goal is to make sure that Beale Street is safe.”

The report shows 19 stampedes in the district since 2013 – all happening after midnight; 25 percent of those incidents happened during the Memorial Day weekend.

ERMS concludes: “There does not appear to be a direct correlation between density and probability of stampedes.” The report instead concludes the stampedes are triggered by “deliberate anti-social behavior” and driven by “anxiety” – “general fear and anxiety of visitors becoming the victim of violent crime.”

The report also says “visitors’ perceptions about safety on Beale Street may be a contributing factor.”

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