After a string of gay bar thefts, what can clubgoers and bar patrons do to protect themselves?

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Following a string of incidents at New York Metropolis homosexual bars the place incapacitated males had cash stolen from their financial institution accounts with the assistance of facial recognition expertise, security consultants are recommending a multi-pronged method for these in search of a enjoyable and protected evening out. 

Requires vigilance had been reignited final week when the New York Metropolis Police Division confirmed that three males who had visited The Eagle NYC, a homosexual leather-based bar, within the fall had been incapacitated after which had hundreds of {dollars} stolen from their on-line monetary accounts by criminals who accessed the victims’ smartphones utilizing facial recognition expertise. These incidents had been just like the circumstances surrounding the deaths of two men within the spring, Julio Ramirez and John Umberger, who had been final seen at homosexual bars in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on the evenings they died. 

Within the wake of those incidents, public security consultants have suggested patrons of the town’s LGBTQ nightlife areas to keep away from utilizing facial recognition expertise on their smartphones and to take a number of different steps to make sure a enjoyable evening out doesn’t end in a harmful state of affairs, particularly incapacitation.

Brian Downey, an NYPD detective and the president of the Homosexual Officers Motion League, or GOAL, mentioned the best answer “is just not getting in that place to start with.” 

Homosexual bars and nightclubs have lengthy served as de facto neighborhood facilities for queer individuals, particularly in New York, which has the nation’s largest inhabitants of LGBTQ individuals. This wealthy historical past, and the long-held thought of homosexual bars as protected areas, has led many patrons of those venues to consider within the inherent good nature of these round them, Downey mentioned. Nevertheless, he cautioned that queer New Yorkers should keep away from letting their guards down and keep situational consciousness, even inside these traditionally protected areas. 

“Our neighborhood must be conscious always that it doesn’t matter what neighborhood you’re going to be part of, it doesn’t matter what age cohort you’re in, there are all the time going to be individuals who completely shouldn’t have good intentions,” Downey mentioned. “There are individuals who understand our neighborhood as weak, our neighborhood as people who will be preyed upon, and they’ll use that to their benefit.”

Along with these incidents, the NYPD has confirmed that it’s investigating related crimes which have victimized bar patrons who don’t establish as LGBTQ or had been visiting venues that aren’t queer-affiliated. Authorities have additionally not publicly commented on whether or not the victims had been drugged on the evenings they had been victimized. Nevertheless, three victims of such crimes, together with one in all The Eagle NYC victims, and relations of three different victims, together with Ramirez and Umberger, previously told NBC News they strongly suspect druggings occurred earlier than the thefts. 

To keep away from being drugged or consuming unsafe substances that may result in sickness or incapacitation, consultants shared some prevention strategies that officers have been advising for many years: Watch your drink being ready, don’t go away your drink unattended and don’t settle for drinks or medication from strangers. 

Joseph Palamar, an epidemiologist and affiliate professor of inhabitants well being at New York College’s Grossman Faculty of Drugs, has spent a long time learning drug use in New York Metropolis’s nightlife scene. He warned that drinks left unattended can simply be spiked with powdered opioids or gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), which will be troublesome to detect or style.

Even when outfitted with fentanyl test strips, that are small strips of paper that may detect the presence of the lethal opioid in different substances, Palamar acknowledged that most individuals are in all probability not testing their drinks or medication whereas they’re out partying. He mentioned it might be extra advisable to easily chorus from accepting drinks and medicines from strangers.

“It might be somewhat awkward testing the individual’s medication in entrance of them, and I believe it might spoil the intimacy of the second,” Palamar mentioned. “I imply image it: You’re attempting to kiss someone in a stall and, ‘Oh, maintain on! Let me take a look at this bump earlier than you give it to me.’ It’ll be insulting, and there goes the hookup.”

Clubgoers and bar patrons who interact in one-on-one actions with strangers are most weak, he added.

“If you’re off dancing with someone or kissing someone otherwise you go to the toilet with somebody to do a bump or to have intercourse or to do no matter, that’s when the chance is far greater to be drugged,” Palamar mentioned. “You are able to do your factor and run round and hook up, however you want a pal round to note when you start appearing out of the atypical.”

Palamar additionally acknowledged that some clubgoers would possibly exit by themselves, typically with the intention of assembly strangers to hook up with. In these situations, he and different consultants suggested making pals or relations conscious of your whereabouts earlier than going out.

For these going out solo, Darlene Torres, the director of consumer providers at LGBTQ advocacy group NYC Anti-Violence Venture, beneficial sharing their telephone’s location knowledge — a function obtainable on most smartphones — with pals or relations. She additionally beneficial they arrange check-ins all through the night with their family members and create a plan ought to their family members not hear from them on evenings they’re going out alone. 

“We will’t management individuals,” Torres mentioned. “We will solely actually attempt to give as many instruments and security plans — plan A, plan B, plan C — and to verify people have these plans laid out for them earlier than they exit for the evening.”

The NYPD has not made any arrests in reference to the incidents at The Eagle NYC or within the instances of Ramirez and Umberger, although the division confirmed all of those incidents are nonetheless being investigated. However Downey cautioned that even when these accountable for these victimizations are dropped at justice, LGBTQ New Yorkers should proceed to be vigilant and follow widespread nightlife security measures. 

“I’d by no means say, ‘Don’t exit,’ as a result of if we don’t exit, we’re sending a message to people who we’re afraid of them and that we’re not robust sufficient to return collectively in opposition to these dangerous actors,” Downey mentioned. “As a substitute of hiding, what wants to simply be elevated is our stage of situational consciousness — and it’s not a time to be complacent.”

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