Calls from bars keep police busy 

Calls to police that involve incidents at bars and nightclubs have more than doubled since 2003, but not necessarily because of a rise in crime or mischief, according to the city police chief.

In a report released by police Chief Jack Van Etten, police received 350 calls in 2006 for bar-related incidents, a dramatic rise from 162 in 2003.

Van Etten said, however, that police have been "proactive" in working with owners of establishments to crack down on brawls, vandalism and public urination.

"Even though the numbers appear to have gotten worse, it’s gottenbetter," Van Etten said. "When we talk to [bar owners] about this, they are apt to give us a call. The numbers aren’t bar crimes, they are bar calls."

In recent years, Burlingame Avenue and Broadway have become bustling destinations during the late weekend hours, which has prompted police to encourage bars and clubs to call them.

For almost two years, police and bar owners have held bi-monthly "proactive" meetings designed to monitor the influx of 20-somethings who spill out into the street after last call. There were 208 calls in 2004 and 295 in 2005.

Paddy Flynn, owner of the eponymous bar on Lorton Avenue for 11 years, confirmed that police have stepped up their presence as nighttime crowds have grown.

"I don’t think we’ve called the police in a year and a half," he said. "I’ve seen less trouble in the last four or five years than I’ve ever seen. The fights that do happen — usually it’s between two guys over a high school thing that happened five years ago."

In recent years, popular destinations like The Alibi, Straights and Blush have put Burlingame on the after-hours map, Van Etten said. He also said that most of the influx has come from out of town.

Summer Sofos, a bartender since 2003 at California Bar & Grill on California Drive, said that while the number of patrons has spiked, unruly behavior remains normal. She added that crowds have become younger since she started.

"[The police] have more to deal with because it’s just busier," she said. "Now we have to have someone at the door in the front and at the door in the back."

Despite smaller force, crime steady

An internal study of the last 10 years shows that overall crime has remained steady despite a reduction in police staff.

Between 2001 and 2004, staffing was reduced from 50 to 41 through early retirements and attrition. Since then,one officer has been added.

Burlingame remains strong in its enforcement when compared with other cities in San Mateo County, according to the report.

Police Chief Jack Van Etten lauded the overall numbers, which show that there are 811 annual calls per 1,000 people, less than the county median of 872.

For serious crimes in Burlingame such as murder, rape, aggravated assault, larceny and car theft, the annual rate didn’t change, hovering around 1,200 reported crimes a year. However, moderately serious crimes — such as shoplifting, vandalism, drunkenness and prostitution — had more fluctuation.

Before 2001, there were 1,992 reported crimes a year. Between 2001 and 2004, the number spiked to 2,858. But it has since gone down, averaging 2,534 crimes in 2005 and 2006.

"They went up during the lean times but lately went down a little," Van Etten said. "Around 2005, 2006, we are around our 10-year average."

Reports involving gang activity have risen from 17 in 2004 to 43 in 2006, while complaints involving illegal narcotics have not changed significantly, averaging 80 a year.

bfoley@examiner.com

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