In the last months of Giuliani's war on nightlife, the latest battleground is . . . ambulances? Amid a steady beat of revelations about the West Chelsea nightclub Twilo -- two revelers on the party drug GHB nearly died there; an overdose victim claimed that he was hidden from EMS workers by a security guard -- the most incriminating was that the club uses a private ambulance service to handle patrons who overdose on drugs.
But while the city says private ambulances are used to avoid police scrutiny, nightclub owners maintain the city effectively gives them little choice since 911 calls can be used against them in cabaret- and liquor-license hearings. "Legitimate bar and club owners can get a disorderly-premise violation simply for calling 911," says New York Nightlife Association founder Andrew Rasiej.
Now the adversarial relationship between nightclub owners and the NYPD may be getting even worse. New York has learned that on April 21, officers from the 10th Precinct delayed an ambulance that was taking a clubber who had overdosed to Cabrini Medical Center, climbing into the van to take the victim's information before allowing it to leave. They also created space -- and according to some an additional delay -- so a Daily News photographer could take pictures. "The police never physically handled anyone," says a source close to the club, "but they stood in such a way that the photographer could get a picture unmolested."
According to one of two official reports on the incident obtained from the Metrocare Ambulance Group, the private company Twilo uses, the driver "had gone in front of the ambulance to drive the patient to the hospital when we were blocked in by a cop car." Both reports agree that the ambulance was delayed so an officer could take the patient's information, and one states: "One woman was taking pictures in back and in front of the ambulance -- the police were not really keeping us from leaving but I would have left a lot quicker if they had not climbed in."
A spokesman for the NYPD counters that "the police may have approached the ambulance to identify the individual being treated and to document that the patron had in fact been removed from the club and was being treated for an overdose on drugs," but he would not comment on specific allegations.
This latest battle is unlikely to have a clear winner. But as the city continues to effectively penalize clubs for using the 911 system -- and clubs become increasingly alienated from that system -- club patrons have the most to lose. "The industry has tried numerous times to change the perception of the relationship between clubs and police and has been rebuffed," says Rasiej. "They are conditioned not to seek the help of police."