Will Smith's One-Man Denver LGBTQ Nightclub Safety Campaign

For more than a year, numerous major Denver LGBTQ venues have received regular reports about crimes at or near their establishments and others like them across the Denver metro area.

But while the data is drawn from Denver Police Department statistics, DPD representatives aren't compiling or distributing it.

The person who's taken on this mission is Will Smith, a local resident (not the movie star) who began collecting crime data after he was assaulted at a Denver club last year. But while his basic facts are solid, a DPD representative disagrees with Smith's conclusion that violent incidents are increasing at LGBTQ clubs in the city — and so, too, does Steven Alix, owner of X-Bar, whose venue is cited for a single incident on a recent Smith report. See details below.

Still, Alix credits Smith's efforts as a watch dog as having a positive effect. In his words, "I don't think there's a rise in violence, but we search bags now" — and he notes that at another club, "they used to have one off-duty officer at a time, and now they may have two. So a lot of us are taking different steps to help the customers in our community feel safer and keep a closer eye on things."

Smith's project can be traced back to April 26, 2015. On that date, he reveals via e-mail, he was blindsided by a customer at Charlie's who "was harassing me for something I had nothing to do with." The assault took place just outside the club, resulting in what he describes as a "broken, shattered hip" and a ten-day hospital stay.

We've reached out to Charlie's about this incident and Smith's statistics on multiple occasions over recent weeks but haven't received a response at this writing; we'll update this post when and if someone gets back to us.

Seven weeks after the attack, a frustrated Smith accessed the Denver Police Crime Map, an online resource that allows visitors to pull up information about criminal reports, and found that other crimes were taking place at or in the vicinity of LGBTQ clubs. As such, he started going through incident reports, and in early June of that year, he sent a five-page letter about his findings to nineteen clubs and venues in Denver.

The one bar owner who responded to the letter was Alix, who "assured me that he and his bar staff are trying to reduce their assault rate to zero...and that since day one of their grand opening, they have full-time experienced security every night of the week and busy day times," Smith writes. "They also are a part of a local neighborhood watch group on X-Bar's portion of Colfax."

The positive nature of Alix's response helped inspire Smith to regularly visit the Denver Police Crime Map over the months that followed. A graphic pulling together incidents from June 2015 to July 2016 is at the bottom of this post. But he's also assembled updates every sixty days or so, including the one directly below, shared just prior to Halloween. As you can see, the graphic maintains that "violent assaults/threats are up 600 percent" at LGBTQ venues in Denver.

While Denver Police Department spokeswoman Christine Downs confirms that the events noted in the graphic by their DPD incident number did indeed take place, she stresses that department personnel have seen no evidence about "a trend of people assaulting members of these clubs."

Downs points out that "the incidents weren't necessarily in the establishments. Some were outside, some were in front, some were on the sidewalk. And we don't have any indication that they were linked."

Of the items listed under "violent assaults," Downs says, "One was domestic violence between a man and a woman, one was between what appears to have been two scalpers trying to sell tickets to an event, and one was someone who threw a glass of ice at another party, who didn't want to press charges. They're like anything you'd see at any other clubs."

Take the graphic-cited incident that took place at M-Uptown. According to general manager Jeff Kustok, "we do a bingo event, and a gentleman tried to get on the stage. He went up a few times and something angered him. So he went to his car, grabbed something and came back in. He took a swing at somebody and hit somebody else in the process. So we called the police and he was escorted out."

Kustok adds that incidents like this one are "extremely rare. I don't think we've had any other assaults or things like that for six or seven years. So I think it was more of a random situation — and I feel we're a very safe place for our guests."

X-Bar's Alix echoes Kustok's observations.  Prior to the September 10 incident mentioned in Smith's graphic, "we hadn't had anything since last year's Pride. We go a long time and then something weird happens. But we have security every night, and half our job is just managing Colfax problems — and we all know what they are."

Moreover, Alix emphasizes that the few violent episodes that have taken place at X-Bar over time are "usually exes working out their thing. They're not people from the outside community."

For his part, Smith acknowledges that "on any given night or day, Denver police are dealing with hundreds of incidents and a very, very, very small percentage are at GLBT bars."

Nonetheless, he plans to keep doing his part to make sure LGBTQ venues are safe.

"I wish my goal in gathering data expired due to no incidents," he notes. Until then, he'll continue to "warn patrons to be on guard and to alert bar owners where they stand regarding police activity in their establishments among their fellow GLBT bar owners."

Here are Smith's statistics from June 2015 to July 2016.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts