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SL POLICE CRACKING DOWN ON BYOB BARSCity gains access to clubs for inspection

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As a response to escalating crime and violence associated with late night alcohol consumption, the Storm Lake Police Department proposed an ordinance that requires businesses obtain a permit for alcohol consumption beyond 2 a.m.

The proposed ordinance would bring regulations including a permitting process, background checks, insurance coverage and consent for police and fire department officials to enter the premises to conduct inspections to ensure compliance with state and city codes, Storm Lake Police Chief Chris Cole said at Monday’s city council meeting.

Imposing this ordinance would be a way for the police department to get ahead of the problem, Cole claimed. The city council was on board. Councilwoman Maggie Martinez asked if the ordinance could be implemented before winter. It can. It could be imposed as early as June if the city council signs off on the ordinance three times.

Mayor Mike Porsch said the ordinance wasn’t intended to crack down on graduation parties or weddings. It was aimed at consistent, after-hours drinking by invitation at establishments that offer it, he claimed.

“It’s a rave,” Councilwoman Meg McKeon described the establishments the ordinance intended to target.

No establishments were mentioned by name. The number of establishments that are believed to be operating in Storm Lake wasn’t specified.

“By imposing regulations on these establishments, we hope to reduce the occurrence of violent incidents, safeguard our officers and uphold the integrity of our community,” Cole said. “The police department fully supports the enactment of this ordinance to protect the well-being of our residents and maintain peace and order within our city.”

The SLPD saw a trend of escalating crimes and violence associated with business that allow people to bring in their own alcohol and consume it past 2 a.m. Cole said the businesses that allow people to bring in their own alcohol often draw large crowds after the bars close.

Those businesses don’t have a liquor license and it’s often unregulated, Cole said.

“When they don’t have a liquor license, you’re allowed to bring your own alcohol in and law enforcement doesn’t have the capability to conduct bar checks because it's not a liquor license establishment,” Cole said. “Oftentimes we’ve experienced large fights that spin out of control and by the time officers get there, it’s escalated to a very large incident.”

Cole claimed the businesses became a hub for criminal activities, including large fights, drug-related incidents, public intoxication, property damage, shootings and various liquor law violations. They’re not subject to the same regulations as bars, which, by law, have to allow officers to enter the premises during hours of operation. They’re also required to submit to inspections by the fire department.

Over the past five years, Cole and his staff responded to 11 fights, one shooting, one riot, arson, an assault involving a knife, seven public intoxication incidents and two liquor license violations at a single location.

“One of the most recent incidents that we were called to there were drugs laying out on the tables, in plain view, there were people that needed ambulances — it was a very violent situation,” Cole said.

Without a liquor license, police officers aren’t able to enter the businesses until they are called to respond to an incident. With current liquor license laws, City Manager Keri Navratil said businesses who allow their patrons to bring their own drinks don’t have to have insurance or get a permit.

“You’re having an officer go into a situation where you don’t know what’s going to happen to them,” Navratil said.

The calls linked to these events imposed a “significant risk to our staff and a burden on our resources,” Cole said. Officers frequently responded to the disturbance but only after the incident escalated and spun out of control.

“It’s escalated to the point where it’s unsafe for our officers, unsafe for the community and unsafe for the people, the patrons, inside the establishments,” Cole said. “... It’s not uncommon for patrons to circle the officers and throw beer bottles at them.”

The proposed ordinance would give officers access to the establishments before they escalate. Businesses that don’t comply with the new ordinance could get their permit revoked.

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