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Stop the Music 

How the SPD shut down the Knitting Factory

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While music lovers fret over the sudden shutdown of the popular Knitting Factory concert house, Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub’s closure order reflects a larger law enforcement campaign to target problem locations.

In his first few months as chief, Straub has consistently pushed efforts to condemn drug houses or evict problem tenants from apartment buildings. His new approach strives to apply police pressure to locations that serve as magnets for criminal activity.

“We have to control those places that are harboring people that are intent on jeopardizing the safety of the community,” he says.

A suspected gang shooting early Monday morning outside the Knitting Factory convinced Straub to exercise his rarely invoked authority to pull the venue’s entertainment license. The venue can’t host shows without the license; it has 20 days to appeal and would likely reopen if it can make security improvements.

In announcing the shutdown, Straub pointed to three other shootings in the past year with connections to the venue. The chief also cited an “excessive” number of emergency calls for fights, medical problems and other issues at the 1,500-person concert hall.

“We were in the Knitting Factory only a few weeks ago after another shooting, talking to them about how we can’t allow this type of behavior downtown,” Straub says.

The Knitting Factory’s management quickly released a statement condemning the recent violence and pledging to cooperate with authorities. The venue blames the disturbances on a “very, very few people” off the premises, but promises to review safety standards.

“Knitting Factory Entertainment is committed to this neighborhood and to being an asset to the theater and arts community here in Spokane,” General Manager Matt Judge says in a statement.

Just a day after the closure order, nearly 3,000 people had joined a Facebook group called “Keep the Knitting Factory Open” in hopes of quickly reopening the venue. As one of the few large venues attracting touring bands to Spokane, many music fans fear the city could lose opportunities for upcoming concerts.

Mark Richard, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, says the Knitting Factory provides a significant draw to the downtown area. While Richard says he supports the police chief’s efforts to impose a “zero tolerance” policy on local violence, he hoped all parties could find a way to reopen the concert house.

The Knitting Factory management announced the cancellation of one event this Friday as a “cooling off” gesture, but any other cancellations may depend on how quickly the venue can respond to police concerns.

The city’s Municipal Code does hold entertainment venues responsible for the conduct of patrons outside the confines of the venue. The city requires the venue to “exercise appropriate control over its customers, not only inside their establishment but also within the immediate vicinity” to prevent neighborhood disturbances or property damage.

Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe reports the department previously met with Knitting Factory managers over security concerns on Jan. 28. They later conducted a safety inspection on Feb. 6 to discuss steps for reducing future problems.

Following the Feb. 18 shooting, Straub reportedly consulted with the department’s Special Police Problems officer, who oversees licensing enforcement, and the city’s legal department before issuing the order.

Straub says the Knitting Factory closure order is meant to force a dialogue on how to address violence near the venue.

“I want to emphasize our goal here is to bring them to the table,” he says, “and have them control the people who are using their place.” 

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