MADRID — Muscles bulge in the tight grouping of hundreds of men dressed in black. Standing in an alley under a cold drizzle, their shaven heads frame hardened features on their faces — some streaked by tears.
The bouncers gathered in a vigil outside a Madrid nightclub named Heaven to honor two murdered colleagues.
On an early morning in January, Catalin Stefan, a doorman at the club, was shot dead inside. Alejandro Munoz, a promoter, died from a gunshot wound when he ran with other employees after the gunman. Three other men were seriously injured. Headlines the next morning reported the deaths resulted from a fight between rival mafias trying to control the security of Madrid nightclubs. The police said Stefan had been accused of kidnapping and his trial was pending.
A few weeks earlier, Alvaro Ussia, 18, was beaten to death during a night out at Balcon de Rosales, a popular club. Three doormen were arrested. Two of them had police records, one for robbery, the other for violence.
“Organized crime has taken over Madrid nights, “ said Madrid’s top Interior official, Enrique Granados.
Now authorities have set out to clean up the image of bouncers in this city renowned for its nightlife. Starting in March, the local government will require bouncers to receive certification by passing tests similar to those taken by law enforcement.
Bouncers will now be required to pass a psychological test that assesses a person’s attitudes and reactions towards a crisis, in order to detect people prone to violence. Furthermore, candidates will have to have a clean police record.
The measure has been well received, said Javier Zamora, spokesman for the Business Platform for the Quality of Madrid Leisure and Tourism.
“Being a doorman requires certain qualities, such as self-control and temperance,” Zamora said. “Their job is to guarantee the safety of the clients inside. Guys prone to fighting are going to be cleaned out of the system, they won’t qualify to get certified.”
Bouncers say it is wrong to target them, but offer no further explanation. In a moment of tension on the night of the vigil, some of those who began to answer questions from reporters were told by other bouncers to shut up. The National Association of Professional Doormen said its members will not talk to the media.
Dan Bechano, a waiter who worked with Stefan and was present the night of the murder, said indignantly, “Mafias? There are no mafias. That guy fired his weapon when Catalin kept him from entering the club. Cata was only doing his job.” Bechano said the doormens’ job is “dangerous,” with aggressive, drugged-up or drunken men trying to get into clubs at night. “They get cocky, they go to their cars and grab a knife or use a broken bottle as a weapon,” he said.
Javier A., a 43-year-old club promoter-manager who would not give his last name, said the danger of Madrid nightlife had been exaggerated since the recent murders and said “the night has become less safe, but so has the street. Madrid is less safe by day and by night. Years ago one might get in a fist fight, now some people carry guns. Still, this is not the Bronx.”
Police do not keep statistics on confiscated illegal firearms. With 1.41 violent deaths for every 100,000 residents, Madrid ranked 10th out of 12 European capitals, according to Eurostat statistics from 2003 to 2006. Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Dublin and Copenhagen all had more murders.
Zamora said Madrid nightlife is safe overall: “Each weekend there are 600,000 people in Madrid having fun at night. There are 5,000 doormen. There are some incidents, but they’re absolutely minimal. Our clubs are among the safest in Europe.”
Madrid’s fervent nightlife is not only a matter of pride for madrilenos but also a major tourist attraction. The town is a favorite of U.S. students on study-abroad programs. Nightlife represents 8 percent of the region’s economy, with 40,000 businesses, and 200,000 jobs, according to the Business Platform. Traffic jams are not uncommon at 3 a.m. on weeknights in popular clubbing areas. Dance clubs stay open until 6 a.m., and “after-hours” clubs stay open even later. Stefan was killed at 4 a.m. on a Monday; 700 people were inside Heaven at that hour.
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Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the murder rate in Madrid. There are 1.41 deaths for every 100,000 residents, not every 1,000 residents.