Mayor Eric Adams said New York City is ditching a late-night raid strategy that disproportionately targeted bars and clubs in neighborhoods predominantly home to people of color in favor of a new approach that gives owners a chance to resolve problems before the cops show up.
Adams on Thursday said the city is dismantling the Multi Agency Response to Community Hotspots, or MARCH, program, created in the 1990s by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani to crack down on quality of life problems. Under the model, police and other city agencies conducted hundreds of unannounced inspections at nightlife establishments each year, forcing customers to exit and shutting businesses down during peak hours.
A 2019 report from the Black Institute found the MARCH program was marked by a “pattern of discriminatory enforcement,” and that police and inspectors were far more likely to target neighborhoods where people of color made up at least 45% of the population. Most of the inspections did not result in a single infraction, the report found.
Adams called the initiative “extremely abusive and intrusive” to small businesses and customers. He said police and officials from the Office of Nightlife will instead contact business owners to inform them of problems and allow them to make corrections, except in cases where there are serious public safety concerns.
“That harassment that you saw in the past is not what you’re going to see,” Adams said at a press conference at Paragon, a Brooklyn club on the border of Bushwick and Bed-Stuy. “That is not how you treat a business.”
The mayor said he recalled times he was at Brooklyn bars when cops arrived and turned on the lights to conduct the inspections after neighbors made complaints. The enforcement gave the impression that the business was doing something wrong, he said.
“There is a belief that OK, there’s something illegal happening at the establishment when it was not, it was a simple inspection,” Adams said. “We were in legitimate places that were well run, well managed and all of a sudden there was this intrusive, disrespectful way of treating not only the business owners, but the patrons at the same time.”
Adams’ announcement received praise from some members of the nightlife industry who criticized the MARCH tactics. Paragon owner John Barclay helped organize a campaign to stop the raids and commended the new approach.
“I think this is going to save hundreds of establishments, maybe more, and certainly hundreds if not thousands of jobs in the future,” Barclay said. “So I think this is a great step in the right direction.”
A 2019 city law requires the mayor’s office to report on MARCH inspections at least twice a year. The reports show the number of documented crackdowns have decreased dramatically, from hundreds per year to none in the first six months of 2023 — though other interagency raids have continued outside the MARCH program.
NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey told reporters the new task force will continue documenting any time it enters a business for an inspection.
A City Hall spokesperson later told Gothamist the Office of Nightlife will compile information about inspections and include it in its mandatory reports under the previous law.
The new approach forces the NYPD and city officials to complete several requirements before raiding a nightlife establishment during business hours, including daytime inspections and meetings with the business owners.