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Alcohol compliance unit eyed for Bloomington downtown

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013 10:47 a.m. CST

BLOOMINGTON — Creating a police “alcohol compliance unit” to help deter safety problems and crime related to downtown nightlife is among recommendations from a downtown report presented Monday.

The alcohol compliance unit would require the addition of a full-time police sergeant to coordinate with various city departments, including the liquor commission, police and code enforcement. The unit would organize compliance checks and develop educational programs related to alcohol for businesses, the community and students.

The alcohol compliance unit would build upon police enforcement efforts already boosted early this year by assigning a sergeant and two officers specifically to downtown on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, in addition to the overtime teams that work that detail but with different officers with each shift.

“The police recommendation for the alcohol compliance unit is very critical because we need to start establishing this accountability,” City Manager David Hales said. “There needs to be some continuity in supervision.”

The report also notes that the city is currently working on an intergovernmental agreement with the Twin Cities’ two universities for sharing police information so the schools can better enforce their student codes of conduct.

While several aldermen were pleased with the report, Ward 4 Alderman Judy Stearns said she was “disappointed” in what she described as “a lovely, long, extremely detailed report about other cities.”

“I was looking for some quick fixes,” Stearns said. “We need some major changes and we need them quickly and I don’t know how this (report) is going to do it.”

Aldermen directed Hales last November to develop a comprehensive enforcement plan for the lively downtown bar scene.

While the report offered some recommendations for handling the nightlife as it now exists, it also emphasized a need for aldermen to set a broader goal.

“There’s a pleading request that all of the staff has of the council and that is first set your vision. What do you want downtown to be now and in the future?” said City Manager David Hales. “If it is just the status quo ... we’re going to continue to deal with problems on and on again going forward.”

Many aldermen praised the report but also asked city staff to bring back a short list of recommendations they could act on immediately while they continued to examine the long-term questions related to a downtown vision.

Hales said among those could be recommendations for liquor license fees, so all taxpayers aren’t asked to “shoulder the burden” of handling the downtown problems. He said he sees a “direct correlation” between raising fees and the recommended alcohol compliance unit.

The report also suggests that, if the city is to maintain its current vehicle-for-hire or “party bus” regulatory system, the council should consider raising fees for licensing those vehicles to offset the staff time required for enforcement.

The report also asks policy questions, including whether the city should mirror Normal’s approach to liquor licenses, which are issued only for restaurants, with no tavern option.

Other recommendations include: Considering ordinance violation history when determining occupant loads;  establishing an annual audit of alcohol sales versus tangible goods for businesses holding restaurant liquor licenses, which call for less than half of sales to come from alcohol; and expanding the use of surveillance cameras downtown.

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©2013 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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