Mayor Dickens established a nightlife division to enforce liquor laws and hold bars and restaurants accountable for violence. The city is also trying to reduce bureaucracy that contributed to businesses flouting the law, said nightlife manager Michael Paul.
“Every day as mayor, I get an alert anytime there’s an incident,” Dickens said at an April training event for bar and restaurant owners in City Hall’s bright marble atrium. “Because of anticipation, my body now wakes up about two o’clock, and I sit there, and I fool around, and I think about what’s going to happen. Some nights, nothing happens. But some nights, I get a buzz and there’s a shot, and I look at the location, and it’s within a block or two of some of our nightlife establishments.”
Between the start of the pandemic and Dickens’s inauguration in January, Atlanta experienced about 70 homicides above its prepandemic baseline; almost a third of those occurred within yards of sketchy clubs and restaurants, a product of spontaneous rage, gang warfare, drunken idiocy, and Georgia’s gun culture. At the same time, as violence linked to the city’s nightlife exploded, Atlanta’s nightlife enforcement fell apart: A scathing report last year showed that the police unit enforcing liquor license standards was at about half staff, and that recommendations to pull licenses had piled up without action on Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s desk. Some restaurants had effectively become nightclubs by flouting license standards. Other places regularly sold alcohol without a license at all, waiting to get caught. Operators of unregulated bars are more likely to look the other way while crimes occur. Meanwhile, bodies stacked up.