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St. Charles Mayor Targets Drunken Street Brawls

DeWitte wants to cut closing time from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m. for establishments with Class B and C liquor licenses. He cites uptick in incidents, including an assault on a police officer.

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.

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Holy Moly!!! August 21, 2012 at 11:31 AM
Kind of comparable to giving young siblings guns to play with, and when they start wounding each other with bullets, publicizing yourself as an excellent & proactive parent when you take the guns away. Most anyplace where college kids and bikers head to for a "pub crawl", there are likely to be problems.
Henry James August 21, 2012 at 11:58 AM
I will give credit to the Mayor for requesting this, but I question the motives. Could it be because the City elections are coming up in April and there are talks of several people running against him? You must question this because this isn't a new problem. It has gone on for a few years now. The residents are tired of the weekly if not daily reports of fighting downtown and other activities thanks to all those liquor licenses that have been approved over the last nearly 8 years. Could it be that there were so many complaints especially those who commented in this media outlet, he finally figured something better get done? Cutting back the time is a nice start, but lets stop issuing licenses too. Holy Moly I completely agree.
Stephen Gibson August 21, 2012 at 01:53 PM
While I agree there seem to be an awful lot of bars and not much else in downtown Saint Charles, I've got to wonder why this is portrayed as simply a political problem? If bartenders and bar owners were doing what they are legally required to do -- NOT serve an obviously intoxicated person, it would control this problem in a heartbeat with little or no loss of revenue to them OR the city - these drunks cost more money in bouncers and insurance premiums than they EVER generate. After a while, the drunks will go back to their local bars -- if they can still get in -- and Saint Charles will be known as the adult place to drink, instead of a local college bar town. I guess making the Mayor the bad guy here serves some folks' personal political agendas, but it doesn't advance the common sense argument. A new mayor will have the same hard choices to make -- grant licenses or see businesses stay vacant. And if we don't start making these bar employees act like professionals, the drunks will still get served -- even if there's only one bar in town.
Henry James August 21, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Stephen I agree that it comes down to the bar owners, but enforcement of the rules have been weak. Lets face it if you can make more money by overserving and not get pinched for it wouldn't you. Most would. The continued push to approve liquor licenses has been an issue too. If bar owner know they are going to get called on the carpet for breaking the rules they will get a handle on things. They got away with it for way too long. That is all I am saying.
SportzFan August 21, 2012 at 02:16 PM
I question the timing of this also. The Mayor states an uptick in alcohol issues. Really? It's been like this for years. They have an agenda, this won't pass and the Mayor can still look like the good guy.
Stephen Gibson August 21, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Ask the former owners of Scotland Yard if the laws are being enforced. Unfortunately, they lost their liquor license and now the building stands vacant in one of the busiest parts of downtown, waiting for an auction to sell, no doubt. To manage the cost of enforcement, I wonder if there's any chance that ordinary citizens could volunteer to patrol bars in downtown Saint Charles (that sounds potentially risky even as I write it) or maybe the city could setup a phone number/Twitter account to allow folks to report obvious liquor license violations or over-serving in real time?
Lois Lane August 21, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Beer Narcs of St. Charles, sounds like a new reality show!
Stephen Gibson August 21, 2012 at 03:56 PM
See, I said it sounded risky! Maybe we could get Dog the Bounty Hunter and a couple of the Repo guys! I know the American Picker guys were talking about coming to STC to shop, but i don't think they're good candidates as Civil Obedience Enforcers... LOL
Lois Lane August 21, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Doesn't Geneva have a closing time of 2am everyday of the week? Why then don't they have the same issues of bad behavior as St. Charles?
Henry James August 21, 2012 at 07:41 PM
They don't have the number of bars we do and they won't put up with it
Arlen August 22, 2012 at 12:36 AM
I like drunken brawls. Adds some excitement to an otherwise dull downtown. Much more fun than the concerts in the park.
st. charles resident August 22, 2012 at 03:47 AM
Another problem the Mayor needs to think about though is the additional risk it puts, you can cut some hours, but all it is going to do is make the kids rush to the other bar that is open for another hour to keep the night going. There are risks with that too (ie drinking and driving, etc.). The city of St. Charles makes plenty of money from all the licenses they keep handing out, maybe some should go towards a specialized use of some sort from the police to monitor?

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