Crackdown coming to downtown bars?

At the last City Council Committee Meeting I raised the issue of downtown behavior getting out of control on some nights.  Anyone that reads the PB knows of recent issues.  When I have people (who are out partying at 2 AM) contacting me out of the woodwork that have never contacted an elected official before about their safety, I know there are issues.  Based on the conversation at the meeting there were many council members unaware of the issues.

Hear are some comments from our police chief.  I am supportive of every suggestion that he makes, however I am a little disappointed about passing an ordinance that duplicates existing laws such as not serving intoxicated individuals.  My friend Michael McDonough cares a lot about this issue.  Bottom line, I love a vibrant downtown, I don’t love businesses acting irresponsibly.  Expect crackdowns and perhaps undercover operations coming soon.  I believe most businesses are responsible downtown, but know of 1 or 2 that are not.  If the police need a designated person to drink lots of beer, hey, I’m here to serve…

Stevan –

Issues in the downtown area have been escalating as the weather has improved and more people are out at later hours.  Most of the “bad activity” has consisted of loud noise, littering, generally disorderly conduct and minor acts of vandalism.  Some behavior has escalated to fights and, due to the large number of people in the area, constitutes a potentially dangerous circumstance.

This, unfortunately, is not a unique situation.  The increased activity in the downtown area, while resulting in significant benefits, has contributed to a number of problems.

In discussing this situation with officers and some affected business owners, several contributing factors were identified:

  •  There are a relatively small number of individuals engaged in problematic behavior.  These individuals, however, are responsible for a number of the recurring problems.
  • In almost all cases, individuals engaged in this behavior are intoxicated.  Most have been over served by a liquor establishment in the area.
  • Some liquor establishments are more conscientious about over serving than others.  Some adhere to the guidelines set forth by the “Safe Bars” program, refuse to serve intoxicated customers, call police if they won’t leave and trespass them from the premises when police arrive.  Others are less diligent in this regard.
  • Some bars in this area frequently operate beyond their rated capacity creating difficulties in maintaining bar security and server accountability.  Patrons are often over served in such an environment as drinks are served through wait staff that has little direct interaction with the patron and no responsibility for identification and/or security.  Drinks are often ordered by a third party and then consumed by someone that has had no direct contact with bar staff.
  • While some bars may maintain a relatively high degree of internal security, there is little accountability once a patron leaves an establishment.
  • Most bars in this area move customers off the premises as soon as liquor sales end.  This creates large crowds with little security to mitigate problem behavior.

In order to address these problems in the short term, the Police Department will be deploying a large number of officers (12-15) in the immediate area during the hours up to and immediately after closing time.  A greater physical presence, particularly on weekends, will deter much of the problematic behavior while increased enforcement, when necessary, will help reduce repeated violations by those responsible for the majority of problems.

This short term strategy is just that however – short term.   The deployment of resources in this manner is expensive, very short lived in terms of effectiveness, and does little to address the underlying issues that allow these problems to develop.  An effective long term solution requires more than the deployment of police.  It requires that police, business owners and the council determine appropriate expectations for liquor establishments in our community and a viable mechanism of enforcement when these expectations are not met.

To that end, we recommend that the City consider adopting an ordinance, similar to the disorderly use ordinance requiring liquor establishments, as a condition of licensing, to:

  • Participate in the “Safe Bars” program and abide by its rules.
  • Refuse service to any intoxicated person.
  • Limit the number of patrons on the premises to required capacity.
  • Have adequate management and security staff on duty to ensure the safety of patrons and that the regulations pertaining to serving alcohol are followed.

Liquor establishments failing to abide by these conditions, as in the case of landlords failing to abide by the disorderly use ordinance, would be given a notice of violation and expected to enact a plan to correct any deficiencies.  The failure to do so after 3 violations of this ordinance would result in sanctions to the establishment’s liquor license as determined by the council.

By this recommendation, I am not suggesting that a large number of the liquor establishments in the city are in need of correction.  On the contrary, most are well run places of business.  However, as we have often seen with rental property, only a few problem establishments will create problems far out of context for the great majority of others in the business.  By suggesting we follow the model currently in place for the disorderly use of rental properties, I believe we can effectively address recurring problems without affecting those businesses already employing effective management practices.

The Police Department, in support of such an ordinance, would provide training for bar management and staff on the requirements of the “Safe Bar” program, “server awareness” training for staff, and continuing support to address enforcement problems identified by bar staff.  To further encourage cooperation between liquor establishments and the Police Department, it is suggested that proactive measures taken to contact the police about potential or current problems be excluded as a cause for sanctions against a liquor license.

It should be noted that this proposal is the result of discussions with concerned citizens and staff and has not yet had the benefit of review by the City Attorney’s Office.  It is presented here for the purpose of discussion with the intent to ask the City Attorney to provide a legal opinion regarding its provisions should the council wish to pursue it further.

Please let me know if you have questions or would like any additional information.

Thanks – Roger

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