Nashville bar owners strengthen security after mass shootings

Updated November 18, 2018 - 10:22 pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Security is top of mind for Nashville’s honky-tonk owners in the wake of two recent mass shootings that claimed the lives of country music fans.

Several Lower Broadway bar owners are rethinking their emergency response strategies, pouring money into security staff and training employees in active shooter scenarios.

“I would have never dreamed even four years ago that I’d be going through an active shooter course that Homeland Security is putting on in Nashville, but I’ve gone through every course our police department has offered and the things the federal government has offered to train us on this. It’s a reality,” said Brad Morgan, head of security for honky-tonks Legends Corner, Second Fiddle and The Stage.

Morgan and other staff at Lower Broadway bars are on high alert after a shooting on Nov. 7 at a country western-style bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif. left 13 dead. The attack came just one year after a mass shooting at the Route 91 music festival in Las Vegas left 58 dead.

Many bar owners have increased their security measures significantly in recent years as mass shootings shake the nation and as Lower Broadway grows more crowded.

Security work

On any given weekend night, large Lower Broadway bars have more than a dozen security staff on-site. Those workers patrol the bar to look for anything suspicious, deal with disruptive or over-served patrons and help keep customers safe.

Some bars contract with companies to provide security, while others hire their own in-house security staff.

When Morgan started in his role seven years ago, the three honky-tonks each had about five security guards during a shift. Today, each bar has a doorman and 14 security staff members on a weekend night with three people monitoring each floor and the stairwells. And Morgan said it’s not a minimum wage job; the doorman position pays around $16 per hour plus bonuses.

To get a job on the security team, Morgan said they get licensed through the state and then take a series of tests in-house before they can work on the floor. They work alongside a seasoned team member for the first month on the job.

“These bars are about as safe as you can get,” Morgan said.

The goal is to head off any issues at the door and spot potential problems before they come inside the bar. Morgan said backpacks are banned unless it’s for medical supplies — in which case the bag will be searched — and if someone is wearing suspicious clothing like a trench coat in warm weather then they might be questioned and searched.

Security staff at Lower Broadway bars must also be trained to spot fake IDs, deal with over-served patrons, look out for pickpocket thefts, prevent fights and other issues that arise. They must spot firearms if the establishment doesn’t allow people to carry.

Morgan said doormen will often high-five customers on their way in, which could potentially reveal a weapon when they lift their arm.

The Vigilance Group founder Michael “Moose” Moore, who teaches civilians how to survive dangerous situations and recently consulted with Lower Broadway bar the Acme Feed & Seed on security, said doormen should be cycled out about every 45 minutes so they can remain alert.

“When I talk to bars, I tell them what to look for and how to pay attention. Every person that comes in has some flag you would want to look at until you can refute the flag,” Moore said.

‘Pay now or pay later’

He said it’s important that bar owners invest money into quality training for their employees to teach them how to react in emergency situations. On a weekend night, Moore said a bar the size of Acme should have a security guard at the front door, four security guards on each level and an undercover security guard roaming the building. Acme owner Tom Morales said he has implemented Moore’s suggestions.

“It’s pay now or pay later, and I would much rather spend the money on the front end,” Moore said. “(Bar owners) have to invest. They invest in their decor, they build good bars. I think they have to spend money on real trainers that have some experience.”

As for bar patrons, Moore said it’s important to pay attention to your surroundings, locate the building exits and have a plan for an emergency.

“When I go anywhere, I watch the front door. I stay in what I call the yellow zone, the heightened alert zone. I know where the exit is. I always formulate what my plan is, whether I happen to be sitting or standing and how, in my mind, I’m going to fight the fight,” Moore said.

More police wanted

Beyond the security inside the venues, bar owners and other downtown merchants have been vocal about their desire for an increased police presence on the streets in the area, although crime on Lower Broadway is down and the area has among the lowest levels of serious crimes in Nashville.

Barrett Hobbs, the owner of several Lower Broadway honky-tonks, praised police for the job they do to keep the street safe, but said more police patrolling the sidewalks could proactively stop crime before it enters the bars.

“I think it’s somewhat unfair to just focus on what the bars are doing. We’re the last line of defense, we shouldn’t be the first line of defense,” Hobbs said.

The police department said there are typically between eight and 14 visible police officers in the honky-tonk district, not counting undercover officers, or additional officers on hand during special events.

“We are constantly reviewing strategies in downtown and all other parts of Nashville concerning the deployment of our finite resources toward enhancing public safety. You will see a larger police presence downtown during sporting events, major concerts, etc., due to the increase in crowds prompted by those activities,” said Central Precinct Commander Gordon Howey via email.

NOTE: Lizzy Alfs is a reporter at The Tennessean in Nashville. This article was distributed through The Associated Press’ Member Exchange program.

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