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"They don't know where the cameras are," Ciempa says. "It keeps them in check, maybe where the cameras aren't."
Ciempa believes there's less tension between his officers and the bar crowd, as regulars come to see them as a calming influence rather than a buzzkill. He'd still welcome a bit more cooperation, though, especially when people observe trouble in progress and make 911 calls. "So many of our assault cases, we can't make positive ID, because the people who saw what happened just disappear," he says. "A lot of our victims are targeted because they're intoxicated; they don't know what happened. I would ask people to stay around and be good witnesses."
Another encouraging factor Ciempa cites is a general "decrease in volume" of Let Out crowds. The chilly economy has closed some clubs and compelled others to change format. One of the biggest developments in the area of 19th and Market has been the demise of Club Bash last year; it's now a live concert venue, Summit Music Hall. The place can still pack in close to a thousand, but performances tend to end earlier and attract a different mix of people than Bash did.
"The whole situation has changed dramatically since Bash closed," says David Cole of the Lower Downtown Neighborhood Association. "The whole business plan for the Summit fits the neighborhood better."
"The biggest change, in my opinion, is the type of operations that are down here," says Frank Schultz, the driving force behind the Tavern Downtown (originally the Soiled Dove) and several other popular venues. "You've got to be able to adapt to make it safe and make it work. You've got people who are here for the long haul, and LoDo is a completely different place now."
Schultz has been operating downtown since 1997. When the "wilding" case stampeded customers a few years ago, he got tired of people asking him if it was "safe" to come to his places at night. He's invested heavily in upgrades and expansion, taking over another club that had given police headaches, Market 41, and transforming it into the Cowboy Lounge. He's a strong believer in subtle but intractable dress codes and the wisdom of hiring off-duty cops.
"It's not what they fix, it's what they prevent from happening," Schultz says. "Somebody sees a uniformed officer, they're less likely to be a knucklehead. I've had off-duty since the day I opened, and I've kept them even when I was losing a lot of money. It's a privilege to be able to hire those guys."
The absence of Bash, coupled with the frequent police patrols down the alley, apparently helped thin the hangaround crowd in the Central Parking lot, too. Concerns about that lot and others had been high on the agenda of neighborhood task force meetings organized in 2008 by Denver City Council member Judy Montero and Awilda Marquez, then director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. But the only company rep to show up at any of the meetings was from Ampco, which runs the lot on the east side of the 1800 block of Market.
"That was my biggest disappointment," Montero says now of the task force effort. "The ongoing issue has been parking lots, and I really wish the parking lot owners were more cooperative. When you have all these venues closing and people leaving at the same time, and you have a parking lot that allows people to hang around, then you've got a cross-section of not-so-good possibilities."
Parking lots may still be the ongoing issue, but LoDo in general seems tamer these days. "I certainly don't think it's gotten any worse," says Jim McCotter, an attorney who lives downtown and co-chairs a "good neighbor" committee with Cole and others. "My wife will not go out with me when I'm out at one o'clock, but things are pretty decent down here now. There are times when you can get worried, but it's been a while since anything really bad has happened."
The most recent eruptions of Let Out violence have occurred in the vicinity of Club Vinyl on Broadway, including a shooting behind an Arby's last month and a 2008 spray of gunfire outside the club that wounded five people. Last fall, another purported "wilding," actually a series of assaults and robberies that may have been part of a gang initiation, led to the arrests of more than thirty African-American men and women suspected of participating in the attacks; several of the incidents occurred elsewhere downtown or near Five Points.
Any place, it seems, can be the wrong place at the wrong time. But some times and places are consistently more wrong than others.
As Let Out begins in earnest, the young man in the SECURITY shirt who was holding up the light pole has surrendered to gravity and is now lying on the ground, his cheek on the asphalt. One of his bros stands over him with a cell phone, either summoning help or taking his picture.
Man down. He sleeps on, unaware of the fluttering of wings above him.