Reporting Beth Germano
LAWRENCE (CBS) – The city of Lawrence says it is successfully reducing bar-related crimes through a program of stepped-up enforcement. For the past several months, investigators with the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission have been doing spot checks in city bars looking for potential violations.
Police chief John Romero says their work has helped the department after budget cuts forced layoffs. Romero cited the loss of patrol officers as a contributing factor to increased violence and trouble at bars.
Lawrence has 66 bars in a six square mile area, a congested club scene Romero says also contributes to problems. “ABCC has the authority to go into clubs and ensure they are complying with state law,” he said.
The commission recently suspended the licenses of two establishments, but has handed out dozens of citations ranging from overcrowding, to underage drinking, to violations of fire laws. Still, chief investigator Frederick Mahony says the enforcement is working since the number of suspensions has actually dropped. “If you reduce alcohol-related problems, alcohol-related crime will be cut,” said Mahony.
Not only has the city stepped up enforcement, but Police Chief Romero is going before the licensing board to get a permanent rollback of closing time for bars from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday nights into Saturday.
A pilot program rolling back the closing time was conducted between December and February, and according to Romero crime was cut in half. “If you have a 2:00 a.m. closing, people are coming to your city looking for a late closing, and more often than not, they’ve already been drinking. After 2:00 a.m. there’s no place to drink legally and they’re staying and hanging around. That’s when problems develop,” he said.
Club Copa owner Rafael Beamud disagrees with Romero’s assessment saying problems can develop at any time, but an earlier closing will be bad for business. He says he had to lay off employees during the pilot program, because too many patrons looked for later closing times beyond Lawrence.
“If you rollback to 1:00 a.m. there’ll be a mass exodus of people leaving clubs to go to a nearby town,” he said. “That hour causes people not to come here at all.”
The Lawrence Licensing Board is now considering the request.