Both the Davenport and Rock Island police departments expect tavern owners to crack down on gang activity. Lieutenant Scott Seivert, head of the Vice and Gang Unit of the Davenport Police, said he advises schools and nightclubs to have "zero tolerance for those individuals who express or exhibit obvious gang signs."
For most clubs, that means a dress code, targeting everything from specific brands of clothing to baggy clothes to headgear.
The codes generally ban "urban styling," said Matt Hart, manager of the Thirsty Beaver.
"The common denominator is the dress codes are anti-gang," said Frank Barreca, manager of Stars & Stripes in Davenport. "We follow the police recommendations."
Tom Ott of the Rock Island Police calls the use of dress codes "crime prevention by environmental design."
But this approach to keeping gangs out of local nightclubs has its detractors. Critics claim the dress codes are vague, inconsistent, ineffective, and possibly illegal.
Profiling or Protecting?
Police departments around the country are taking heat for "racial profiling," stopping or arresting people based at least partly on race.
Adam Schwartz, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois, said that it would be troubling if a police department encouraged, required, or helped private clubs establish rules that effectively kept African-American and Latino people out.
"The banning of clothing that is often worn by racial minorities raises some disturbing questions," Schwartz said. "The overlay of state action [the promotion of the dress codes by the police departments] ... is especially disturbing." Schwartz said that the police departments and club owners might be violating civil-rights laws with the dress rules. If the codes disproportionately affect racial minorities, people banned from clubs might have legitimate civil-rights complaints, he said.
The dress codes also raise questions about how they're enforced. For one thing, many provisions are so vague they're meaningless and can be enforced arbitrarily or prejudicially. Stars & Stripes' code bans "inappropriate clothing or offensive clothing." O'Malley's dress code notes, "All of the above is left to the discretion of the management and staff."
Such broad guidelines can lead to abuse. "That should be a management decision, not a call left to the new guy on the door," said Neal Schwake, general manager of Chantilly 2000. "These guys have their own lives and might be keeping out somebody over a pass at a girlfriend."
Inconsistent enforcement goes hand in hand with inconsistent rules. Both Rock Island and Davenport police answer club owners' questions about gang fashion, but do not dictate the dress-code rules. So despite some efforts at uniformity, an ever-changing patchwork of rules has emerged in Quad Cities clubs.
In Davenport, beat officers make periodic visits to clubs and suggest changes to the dress code, Barreca said.
Across the river in Rock Island, the District works closely with police and organizes monthly club-owner meetings to discuss problems. The District's Jennifer Fowler said there is no dress code for District-sponsored events, but individual clubs regularly discuss and update their clothing rules. She added that some clubs make frequent adjustments to posted dress codes in response to problems.
"As trends change, the dress codes will change," Fowler said.
Barreca echoed that thought and stressed that dress codes are important. "As the market changes, the dress codes evolve," he said. "If we don't work to keep the gangs out, they will throw down [fight] right in the club."
"The System Is Working" Ott, who works in the Rock Island police department's Professional Standards unit, explained the history of Rock Island's dress codes. "About five years ago, everyone got together to examine safety problems in the newly created District," he said, including gang fights. "Using the liquor license, we expect club owners to cooperate with keeping downtown safe."
And Ott said the codes have prevented fights. "The system that has evolved is working. We don't have major problems downtown."
Employees need to be vigilant about the dress code inside the club as well as at the door. "We have some very creative dress-code violators," said Thirsty Beaver General Manager Jody Harroun. "They will wear a belt outside to get in and then remove the belt so their pants can drop down and show their boxers."
Most dress codes forbid baggy pants and either ban or restrict headgear. Sports-team apparel is generally not allowed, although the rule is not universal. "We will make an exception for Augustana students and Mallards fans," Barreca said.
O'Malley's has the strictest dress code in the District. Owner Bruce Leachman included a warning at the bottom of his 14-item dress code, which is posted in the window. "Violation of above rules will result in charge of trespassing," it reads. "We reserve the right to refuse entry and service to anyone for any reason." O'Malley's dress code also says: "No A-Shirts (wife beaters)."
Leachman said he does get complaints from people he excludes, but he is unmoved. "I'm even stricter than the dress code. If they try to get in and their pants match their jacket, I won't let them in. That in my personal opinion is gang clothing."
Proclamations about what is and isn't gang clothing are common. "No derby hats," Barreca said. "That's the pimp look."
Other times, clubs claim their dress codes are implemented for safety. Barreca said baggy pants and heavy jewelry are a hazard on the dance floor. Many clubs also block entry to people wearing specific brand names, including Starter, Fubu, Southpole, and Ecko. The distinction between brand names is certainly a controversial component of the dress codes.
"In my personal opinion they are gang clothes," Leachman said. "Are they [potential patrons] mad about that? Sure. They complain to me that I wear Tommy Hilfiger, but that is my prerogative. Fubu is a black-owned clothing company, and gang members wear their clothes."
Davenport Police Lieutenant Seivert disagreed. "We see Fubu all over," he said. "You can't tell if someone is in a gang because they wear Fubu."
Davenport Mayor Phil Yerington also scoffs at the idea of dress codes being effective anti-gang measures. "The colors thing and the sports jerseys, that is from the '80s," said Yerington, a police officer on leave from the Davenport Police department. "The street gangs change their style constantly. The one constant has been the left or right thing. The rest of the dress codes have nothing to do with gangs today. That stuff is passé."
Seivert agreed that associating certain colors with certain gangs is an outdated concept. "The gangs are not being true to their colors," he said.
He explained that the "left or right thing" is the basic dividing line in gang culture. "The street gangs that consider themselves part of the 'folk' nation wear their clothes and hats to the right," he said. "The 'people' street gangs wear to the left."
But the issue is not quite so simple, Seivert added, and so-called gang identifiers need to be viewed in the context of the situation.
One defense of dress codes, however, is that they're not even targeted at gangs. Rock Island Mayor Mark Schwiebert said club dress codes are a useful way to help prevent problems, but they are less directed at gangs than at "creating the perception and image of a friendly, safe place to have fun."
Schwiebert added: "I support the dress codes but that is not a matter of enforcement for me as Liquor Commissioner."
Clubs, too, claim that atmosphere is important. "If people are going out at night, why don't they dress up a little?" Barreca asked. "They shouldn't dress like they are going to a basketball game."
The Thirsty Beaver's Hart also said that dress codes aren't about fighting gangs. "It's all for appearance, really," he said. The clothing rules help create "a better environment for the club." Dress codes aren't effective at keeping gangs out of clubs, he added. "The kids tend to learn what they can and can't wear," he said. "The same people who are wearing that [urbanwear] during the day are dressing up at night."