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It’s Saturday night, and “The Lieutenant” is manning his post on Fur Nightclub’s mezzanine. He’s hunched over the railing with a Red Bull in his hand, his eyes on the crowded dance floor below, looking for danger. He watches a man pound his fist in time to the techno beats while couples bump and grind. “This crowd is not a rough crowd,” he says. As for danger? “You’ll know it when you see it.”
Seeing it, and stopping it, is the Lieutenant’s job. Frank Allman is a security consultant, and, like other security consultants who are partnering with area restaurants and clubs, he’s there to share his expertise with club staff.
For 27 years, Allman, 53, was an officer with the D.C. police department, supervising patrols in Southeast. Last year he retired from the force and Fur hired him to advise the club on security. He works outside the club’s chain of command, he says, as a kind of consigliere to security director David McLeod. “Dave is the boss. I’m an adviser to Dave,” Allman says. “He keeps me informed with D.C. laws and regulations,” McLeod says.
So in recent weeks, as the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board grilled H2O Restaurant & Lounge owner Abdul Khanu about the fatal shooting of a patron outside his establishment May 27, Allman was there, carefully listening to Khanu’s testimony. For hours, Allman covered scraps of paper with notes and tucked them away in his straw-colored fedora.
Clad in a suit, striped tie, and his trademark hat, Allman cuts a noirish figure as he roams the dusky rooms at Fur. He often concentrates on Fur’s martini level, he says, and spends a lot of time “looking around, watching kids have fun.” He scans the dance floor and scrutinizes patrons’ body language. If he sees a fight brewing, he intervenes. “Whenever two people square off, I try to get in the middle,” he says, but he prefers not “to get into the physical aspect” if he doesn’t have to.
Allman pays particular attention to male-female interactions. There’s a “multicultural” atmosphere at Fur, he says, and “sometimes guys step over the line of flirting [that] Americans think is acceptable.” When that happens, Allman says he “warns ’em not to grab the girls’ butts when they walk by” and watches to make sure they obey. He also looks for patrons who are “too intoxicated” and kicks them out of the club, he says. If an incident occurs, he documents it in the club’s log. The most challenging part of his job, Allman says, is staying awake past the 3 a.m. closing time on weekends. “I’m an old man,” he says. “I get tired before it’s time to go home.”
Against a backdrop of highly publicized club violence, more D.C. establishments are turning to professional consultants for security advice. Andrew J. Kline, counsel to the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington—a group that includes some local clubs—says the association is trying to finalize an agreement with a firm that would help its 600-plus members tighten security procedures. Kline would not say with whom the association plans to partner, but he says the collaboration was spurred by business owners’ concerns about violent incidents at liquor-licensed establishments. “There have been a number of incidents in various places, and certainly our members are better off equipped with more information than not,” he says. He says the Restaurant Association has been working on this issue since December and is looking for a program “that’s been examined and vetted.”
H2O owner Khanu had the same idea. After the fatal shooting outside his restaurant, the ABC Board asked him to address security concerns. He responded by delivering a brand-new contract, signed after the shooting, with Sexton Executive Security Inc., a Fairfax-based security consulting company. Khanu says he hopes workshops with the consultant, which begin this week, will go beyond the training his staff has already received from police officers and through mandatory TIPS alcohol service training program. “This is a very professional company coming in with an extensive background,” he says.
John Sexton, the president of Sexton Executive Security, says he’ll teach the employees of Khanu’s two clubs, H2O and Platinum Night Club, the basics of nonviolent conflict resolution. That should come in handy: Last fall, patrons accused security staff of getting physical with their flashlights. (“Carrying the Torch,” 11/3/06). Sexton has some experience with booze businesses; he once “moonlighted” doing security work at bars and pubs in his native Ireland while he served as a police officer there. In the ’90s, he was a special investigator for the United Nations working in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. In 2002, Sexton started his company, which he says specializes in executive protection and workplace safety—the kind needed following the termination of potentially disgruntled employees. And business is booming. “You get something like the Virginia Tech slayings, and people realize, This can happen to us,” he says. Since the massacre in April, he says he’s had to expand his staff. He hopes his work with Khanu’s clubs could be the beginning of a broader effort to help bartenders and bouncers refine their security techniques. “We would like to have a training unit that would service nightclubs. It could even be something we take national,” he says.
But for now, Sexton is focusing on a yearlong course with the staff of H2O and Platinum, complete with a syllabus and visual aids. He’ll explore the psychological impulses, like “fight or flight,” that can cause security staff to unleash on an angry patron. “They don’t have the ability to flight,” he says of threatened bar staff, “so they feel they have to fight.” He’ll teach “the art of detecting people with concealed weapons,” advising security to watch “the way they stand, the way they favor one side, the way they touch the weapon,” and he’ll be coaching Khanu’s employees on how to placate pissed-off patrons. “A lot of these places, in different countries, in past times, they tend to…use a big, beefy guy [who] pretty much had free reign to kick the crap out of you,” but Sexton says Khanu wants to steer clear of that kind of behavior. “Instead of reacting with fisticuffs, he wants them to verbalize,” he says.
When it comes to verbal judo, George “Rhino”
Thompson wrote the book, literally. Sexton uses Thompson’s Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion in some of his courses.
Thompson, who’s also president and founder of what he calls the Verbal Judo Institute, labels his strategy “tactical communication,” or “getting people to do what you want them to do when they damn well don’t want to do it.” Thompson worked as a reserve police officer while teaching English literature at the University of Connecticut and Kansas State University. “I watched the great old dawgs, the old cops,” he says. “They did things, talking drunks down, talking people out of suicide.”
By watching these “old dawgs,” Thompson developed the basic tenets of verbal judo, which he says is about staying “balanced when someone is imbalanced.” For example, Thompson tells students to deflect aggressors’ insults and invitations to violence. That can be difficult, he says. After all, “it’s hard to listen to people call you ‘asshole,’ ” he says. But Thompson believes strength comes from remaining calm, so he instructs students to be pleasant and helpful. “We teach, the more nasty someone is to you, the nicer you are to them,” he says. He suggests reasoning with troublemakers by appealing to their self-interest and asking questions like, “Why would you want to turn a misdemeanor into a felony?” He recommends giving people options: “You can go home, go to your wife, go to sleep, [or you] can go to jail.” This is especially important at bars and clubs, he says, where “drunks can be handled with finesse.” According to Thompson, that means saying something like, “ ‘Please don’t struggle,’ instead of ‘Take that motherfucker.’ ” And never, ever, Thompson says, “kick two angry people out of the door.”
Khanu says he learned that lesson from the May 27 incident. Now, he says, he’ll be setting up five different “customer care centers” throughout H2O where hotheaded patrons can cool off. “I want to say, ‘Hey.…Let’s talk about it,’ ” he says.