A spike in the number of early morning fights involving drunk individuals, some of whom have assaulted St. Charles police officers, has prompted Mayor Donald P. DeWitte to recommend the city cut back the hours of operation for Class B and C liquor license holders so the problem does not escalate.
The matter could come before the City Council for formal action as early as Sept. 4, and the change could be in place as quickly as 10 days after its formal adoption. The city’s liquor code allows Class B and C liquor license holders to stay open until 2 a.m., seven days a week. DeWitte’s proposal would cut that back to 1 a.m.
The City Council, meeting as the Government Operations Committee, agreed unanimously to direct the city staff to write up an ordinance in line with DeWitte’s proposal.
DeWitte said there has been an uptick in drunken fighting recently, particularly on the weekend of Aug. 3, when there were four separate reports of fights in which officers had to break apart the combatants. There were five additional service calls for similar activity for which police wrote no reports because the situations had been resolved before officers arrived. DeWitte said the council, which receives weekly police reports, already should be aware of that.
What caught DeWitte’s attention was the officers’ observations in each of the reports that were filed that the combatants were intoxicated, “which immediately brings up the point about overservicing (of alcohol), which apparently continues to be occurring in some of our downtown establishments.”
DeWitte said some establishments “do a great job of monitoring service of alcohol in their own establishments,” but those that do not cast a pall upon all.
“Like many things, a few bad apples spoil the whole bushel,” DeWitte said.
That’s because the nature of the fights make it difficult to pin responsibility on specific establishments.
“A lot of times what we have happen is that a lot of these fights are out on the street,” Police Chief James Lamkin told the council. He said most of the establishments are pretty good about pushing troublemakers out the door, so that “by the time we get there, we’re not always able to determine necessarily where their last stop was.”
DeWitte fears the problem will escalate unless the city takes action that will catch the attention of the establishments that have been lax about overserving their patrons.
Public drunkenness and fighting in the streets and parking lots near taverns and bars in the city’s entertainment district have been a touchy issue for some time. At one point this spring, it prompted a meeting between the council and liquor license holders. Mayor DeWitte cited that meeting as he appealed to the 10 aldermen who comprise the council’s Government Operations Committee.
“I don’t think it could have been made any clearer to them what the city’s position was on this issue. Given the occurrences of the weekend of Aug. 3, again it appears they have not heeded our requests,” he said. “I think the city has a responsibility to everyone who chooses to frequent out entertainment establishments in the downtown business district to maintain a safe and friendly environment, so that everyone who decides to enjoy themselves can do that.”
Speaking with reporters immediately after the meeting, DeWitte acknowledged that a police officer had been assaulted in at least once instance during one of the fights he mentioned, although the officer was not injured.
He also admitted that some of the downtown establishments prefer a 2 a.m. closing time because it puts them on more equal competitive footing with such establishments in Geneva and Batavia.
That begs the question whether patrons of St. Charles establishments simply would switch to watering holes in those towns to take advantage of later closing times. But DeWitte said he is more concerned about the environment in downtown St. Charles — and ensuring the problem does not escalate.