Zero tolerance shuts club doors on violence

Hundreds of CCTV cameras monitor clubs and surrounds.
Hundreds of CCTV cameras monitor clubs and surrounds.

"There is no tolerance for violence any more. If you are causing problems, we don't want you here," says Wollongong Nightlife's Lou Ristov.

"We'd rather you don't come to our clubs. Go away," adds business partner Raz Dema.

Mr Ristov and Mr Dema are the names behind the acronyms. Formerly RDL, now WNL, they currently operate the Glasshouse, Grand, Harp, Ivory, One Five One, Industry and Questions nightclubs and hotels in the Wollongong CBD.

They are fed up with alcohol-related problems in the city.

At one point or another, most clubs in Wollongong have been on the NSW government's list of most violent nightspots.

Messrs Ristov and Dema say the fact only one drinking hole is on the current list - the Grand Hotel, currently on the lower rung - is testament to the restrictions, rules and reforms clubs have imposed on themselves in recent years.

"If you're violent or a risk, you will get a 10-year ban from our venues," Mr Dema said bluntly.

Since beginning this policy in 2011, Mr Ristov confirmed WNL currently had bans against 15 people in the Illawarra, with 10 banned in the last year.

"We're ramping it up now. We just don't tolerate violence or anti-social behaviour any more," he said.

"Once your mate gets one, you will sharpen up pretty quickly. The word is spreading and people are behaving themselves."

As part of licence conditions, WNL clubs across the city have strict lockout times from 2am, and closing times soon after. Mr Dema confirmed several clubs voluntarily lock out and close even earlier than they have to, but this is not the only restriction WNL clubs impose on themselves.

Glass drinkware has been replaced with sturdy melamine plastic cups; cash registers will refuse sales of shots, drinks with high alcoholic content or sales of more than four drinks at a time after 1am; and a staggering system of CCTV cameras ensures no incident goes unnoticed or unrecorded.

"We've all got access to the cameras," Mr Dema said. He pulled out his iPhone, tapped a few buttons, and a grid of cameras popped up, giving a live feed of everything happening inside the Ivory nightclub. Similar networks watch every other club in the WNL group.

"There's 32 cameras inside Ivory alone, and probably 200 or 300 council cameras on the streets in the city," Mr Ristov said.

"Everything you do inside or outside, we see it. It's a deterrent to anyone who wants to do something silly."

The Grand Hotel recorded 13 violent incidents in the 2012-2013 financial year, placing it under Level 2 operating restrictions such as ceasing alcohol service 30 minutes before closing, a ban on glass after midnight, and the provision of free water and food after midnight .

"Unless you're on that list, you don't have to do any of that, but we do it voluntarily for most of our clubs," Mr Dema said.

"We choose to do it because it keeps people safer."

Neither man is surprised at statistics showing Wollongong saw an almost 37 per cent drop in alcohol-related assaults between 2008 and 2012.

With a zero tolerance attitude to violence, tighter controls on alcohol consumption and a smarter approach to monitoring problems, the WNL men say it has never been safer to have a night out in Wollongong.

"Yes, 100 per cent, it's safe to go out in the CBD," Mr Dema said.

Mr Ristov added: "The work licensed premises have done internally, and working with police, we've created a precinct where it is safe to come out at night."


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