Janesville police say Corvina's is trouble
"I feel that I'm getting put under the microscope because I'm catering to a different culture of people," said Janelle Barlass, who owns Corvina's with Amir Sharifi.
Deputy Chief of Police Steve Kopp countered: "We are keeping a close eye on this establishment, but it has nothing to do with the race of the patrons. It has to do with the activities our officers are seeing and (are) reported to us by others."
In May, the committee renewed the license for Corvina's, 123 E. Milwaukee St. But members even then were concerned about reports of large crowds gathering outside the bar, violent behavior and underage drinking. They warned Barlass to get her bar under control.
Incidents quieted until June 28, when witnesses told police bartenders pushed a fight outside without calling police, Kopp said. The fight culminated in the stabbing of a 20-year-old woman, who was treated and released from Mercy Hospital.
Committee members wanted to know Tuesday what Barlass had done in the last two months to improve the climate.
Barlass said she stations security workers, checks purses and uses metal detectors to keep weapons out of the bar.
Barlass, who was at times argumentative with the committee, claimed the underage woman who was stabbed was never inside the bar. Barlass said she runs a trouble-free establishment.
David Tolles, who is black, spoke on Barlass' behalf.
"In Janesville, the biggest problem is—whether you address it or not—is a problem spot only occurs when you have more than 50 black people in a place together," he said. "... I think Janesville needs to become a little more diverse."
Barlass claimed she has been harassed by police, especially since the June 28 incident. She said police target her bar because she has a black clientele. She said police walk through the bar and watch from across the street.
Kopp angrily said Barlass was out of line.
He said officers' responses to citizen and business-owner complaints have "nothing to do with race."
Kopp said: "Like it or not, Ms. Barlass, if we've identified a location as a potential trouble spot, we're going to keep an eye on it. You ask other downtown bar owners, they'll tell us officers are outside, they're walking through. That's what they do."
Matt Schreier, owner of the Looking Glass and member of the licensing committee, urged Barlass to work with police.
But Barlass said police officers are difficult to deal with and create problems.
Denise Carpenter, however, the owner of nearby Quotes Bar & Grill, praised the police department for helping her learn to control crowds.
"You cannot go to Blackhawk Tech and take Bouncing 101," she said. "We've worked very hard to clean up our portion of the downtown, and we could not have done it without their assistance."
Carpenter said she is grateful for the presence of police downtown at bar time.
"Corvina's ...is hurting my business," she said. "Downtown is no longer viewed as a safe place to come. We've worked very hard down there to make it a warm, friendly and safe environment."
Carpenter talked about the choice of music and how it influences the atmosphere in a bar. Whether it be rock, hip-hop or rap, she said she stays away from "angry" music.
Schreier suggested all downtown bar owners meet.
"If it is an issue possibly that diversity isn't being respected, let's sit down and have a roundtable," he said. "Let's address the issues. Anything that happens at one establishment will have an impact at another."
Barlass said she's willing to work with the police.
"We just want to make sure we're treated as fairly as everybody else," she said.
The committee asked Barlass to report back to the committee in August to show what steps she has taken to get the bar under control.
Committee member Carol Engebretson noted Barlass' poor attitude toward police, and Engebretson said she would recommend revocation in August if that continues.
"I would suggest you be in contact with the Janesville Police Department very quickly," she said.