Police Chief Jim Lamkin told the St. Charles City Council Government Services Committee on Monday night that he believes an association of local bar and tavern owners is gaining ground on concerns about the number of alcohol-related problems in the downtown area.
But, as with earlier reports to them in September and November, aldermen expressed skepticism about whether any progress is being made, and, as 3rd Ward Alderman Raymond Rogina pointed out, even if there has been an improvement, “We can do better.”
At issue is the number of incidents involving public drunkenness, public urination and fighting in the downtown area, which city officials have described as indicative that liquor establishments have not been cutting off patrons who are intoxicated, a situation they have referred to as overservice.
Aldermen also expressed dismay that a Jan. 6 incident, which resulted in hate crime charges over the weekend against three area residents, occurred in the parking lot of a Lincoln Highway bar on the city’s West Side.
City officials have taken the alcohol-related problems very seriously since at least last spring. In addition to concerns that the threat of fights might drive visitors away from downtown St. Charles, merchants have complained of finding vomit and urine on downtown sidewalks and buildings, police have encountered highly intoxicated individuals, including some who have passed out drunk in parking lots and other public areas.
That’s not an image the city wants to convey. The issue peaked in August, when Mayor Donald DeWitte, who is heading into his final months as mayor, proposed cutting back closing time from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m. in an effort to rein in the problems. That was enough to galvanize many of the downtown liquor establishments into action. Last fall, they formed the St. Charles Tavern Association with the aim of working with the city to bring an end to the concerns.
Significant among those efforts have been regular meetings between Lamkin and the tavern association, which is trying to standardize how the establishments tackle the issue, including training.
Lamkin told alderman that to date, the association has instituted a last call at 1:20 a.m., with the final drinks served by 1:40 a.m. Also, bar doors are shuttered at last call, meaning patrons who leave cannot re-enter for one more drink. Plus, said Steve Baginski, the owner of , and representing the St. Charles Tavern Association, the bars have instituted a “ban list” that has been broadened so that if one person is banned from three downtown bars, the individual will be banned from the rest as well.
Lamkin said that list has grown to about 20 individuals.
Lamkin told aldermen that he is optimistic about the steps the association has taken. “While we’re out and about down there, we still have calls that will come in from some of the bars,” he said. “But what we’re seeing is that a lot of those calls are being initiated by the bars.”
And those calls are coming in early, Lamkin said, before the incidents can escalate into a more serious problem. Further, Lamkin said doormen at the bars are turning away people who are drunk, telling them to come back another evening, a positive development in terms of concerns about overservice of alcohol.
Aldermen also asked Baginski how many of the downtown bars have joined the association. He rattled off a list and ultimately ended by saying nearly all of them, except , and
Baginski said both declined to join the association.
Rogina, a mayoral candidate, said he believes there has been signs of improvement, but he also proposed the city consider additional steps.
He called on the city staff to investigate a “model” ordinance that would treat the 2 a.m. closing time as a privilege that required renewal on an annual basis, with the idea that establishments that continue to have problems could lose that privilege.
He also said he believes the city liquor commissioner has too much latitude in resolving situations, and called for an ordinance that would spell out specific penalties for violations. In addition, he said the city needs to review its B and C liquor licenses for venues that offer food “but close at 10 or 11 (at night) and become a bar.”
Ward 2 Alderman Cliff Carrignan also asked Lamkin to bring back quarterly stats to the council on alcohol-related problems, saying he would like the see solid proof indicating the tavern association’s efforts with police are having an impact.
- Jan. 28, 2013:
- Nov. 6, 2012: St. Charles Council Casts Jaundiced Eye on Downtown Bars
- Oct. 29, 2012: St. Charles Fines Two Bars Over Liquor Violations
- Sept. 25, 2012:
- Sept. 20, 2012: Talks Resume Friday on St. Charles Bar Hours
- Sept. 19, 2012: St. Charles Police Target the Alibi
- Sept. 6, 2012: Taser Used: Violence May Fuel Debate on St. Charles Bar Hours
- Sept. 4, 2012:
- Aug. 21, 2012: St. Charles Mayor Targets Drunken Street Brawls
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