I-Team: Violence at Providence nightclubs

An NBC 10 I-Team investigation found that only seven nightclub licenses have been revoked in the city of Providence in the past five years.

A review of documents obtained through a public records request to the city Board of Licenses also found that just 34 clubs were fined for underage drinking.

The I-Team's investigation found that when many of the nightclubs close at 2 a.m., the streets are flooded with drunken patrons -- mostly younger people between 18 and 30 years old.

Rhode Island law allows for nightclubs to allow 18-year-olds into establishments that serve alcohol. Most nightclubs use colored wrist bands to designate which people are 21 and over.

But police and license board officials say the so-called 18-21 law should be reviewed.

"I've been trying for years to change that law," said license board Chairman Andrew Annaldo. "I don't think 18-year-olds should be allowed into clubs with 21 year olds. It just creates a drinking problem."

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare agrees that the law should be reviewed. But he said the violence in and outside of the clubs is generally not being caused by underage club patrons.

"We've had a problem with gang members coming into Providence from the Boston area, looking for trouble and often times causing violence," Pare said.

In recent years there have been murders, numerous shootings, drug overdoses and alcohol abuse inside and outside the nightclubs.

Teny Gross, the head of the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, said Providence until recently had a reputation for an anything goes nightclub culture.

"It was known in New Bedford, in Fall River and in Boston that the nightclub scene in Providence is the wild, wild west," Gross said.

Some business organizations are concerned that the violence at some of the city's popular nightclubs is a detriment to recruiting new businesses and new residents.

"It's a great concern. We are trying to recruit young professionals and new businesses to Providence and violence in the city's nightclubs is not something that is wanted," said Frank LaTorre, the executive director of the Downtown Improvement Association.

Providence Mayor Angel Tavares is also concerned about the underage drinking an violence at some of the city's nightclubs.

"If we find that clubs are abusing the 18-21 law, we are going to come down hard on those clubs. The police are doing a good job in keeping a check on the violence," Taveras said.

Police say there is one club that could easily serve as a model for other establishments.

The Colosseum Club on Pine Street is owned by Anthony Santurri. Santurri has 64 surveillance cameras both in and outside of the club. The cameras act as monitors for all activity taking place on the premises.

"I've hired additional bouncers to double-check the wrist bands to make sure no one under 21 is being served alcohol," Santurri said.

Santurri is a hands-on owner. His constant presence at the club right up to and after closing time helps to quell fights and other unruly behavior.

He's formed a group, comprised of a half-dozen other club owners, that meets regularly. The group has developed a "best practices" handbook that gives guidance on the best way to keep clubs safe and free as possible of underage drinkers.

Police, the mayor of the city and club owners say the violence at the clubs is on the decline, but more work needs to be done, LaTorre said.

"This is really bad for business," LaTorre said, referring to the violence at downtown nightclubs. "Not only is it bad for business, it's bad for the quality of life in the downtown area."