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Making nightclubs safe: the Minneapolis model

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In the days since the Rhode Island and Chicago nightclub tragedies, city officials from Boston to Dallas have ordered squads of fire marshals to crack down on nearly every late-night lair in their cities. It's a high-profile effort to convince people that such calamities will never happen there.

But here in Minneapolis, home to the largest nucleus of nightclubs between Chicago and Seattle, the response was more low-key - an e-mail. It was sent out by a police staffer, calling a meeting of the city's "entertainment task force." This group of club owners, police officers, and fire inspectors represents an unusual attempt to bring public and private interests together to solve a problem - and may serve as a model for other cities looking to improve nightclub safety.

The group meets at least once a month to hash out everything from dance-floor densities to bouncer etiquette. Today they'll meet again, filing into the ultramodern police station in the heart of the city's gritty Warehouse District - Minneapolis's version of Greenwich Village - an area near the Mississippi River where former storage buildings are now entertainment sanctuaries.

Like so many thrusts of civic safety, the solution here was born of chaos - a series of club-related riots in 1998. And it's paid off. Even as the number of clubs has jumped, crime has declined. There's the recent success story of The Fine Line, where a band's pyrotechnic display last week sparked a massive fire. Unlike the Rhode Island tragedy, however, everyone got out safely - thanks to well-placed exits and well-trained staff.

Not quite warm and fuzzy

"[At] those first five or six meetings, it was a lot of 'us versus them,' " recalls Luther Krueger, a crime-prevention specialist in the first precinct who runs the task force from his cubicle.

Since then, relations have definitely improved.

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