WATERVILLE — City officials are exploring ways to decrease late night fights, vandalism and other problems stemming from excessive alcohol use at downtown bars and nightclubs.
The problems have ranged from smashed windows to stabbings and even the shooting death of a man on The Concourse earlier this month.
Police Chief Joseph Massey said it is hard for officers to find out what bars have served or overserved people who later cause problems on city streets. When police approach them and ask where they have been, some are too drunk to understand the question, Massey said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Massey said the Bob-In generates most of the police calls downtown, with 109 calls for police from Jan. 1 to Tuesday. In that same time, there were 15 police calls to You Know Whose Pub on The Concourse, 20 at Mainely Brews at Post Office Square and 26 at the Silver Street Tavern.
Bob-In owner Gubby Karter told councilors Tuesday that his Temple Street bar is in a unique situation because most of his patrons walk or take taxis to his business, while other downtown bar customers come and go in their own vehicles.
When the Bob-In closes early in the morning, patrons spill out into the street, congregate and sometimes get into fights. Karter said it’s spectators outside who end up calling 911.
Karter said that on weekends, a Bob-In employee goes out on the sidewalk to try to prevent altercations.
“I don’t think they (police) get 10 calls a year for any altercations inside the place,” Karter said. “We pretty much police our own.”
He added that the only thing he can do is kick someone out of the bar or call police. When police arrive, bar employees cooperate, he said.
In an effort to address the situation, several downtown bar owners have established a $1,000 fund to help pay insurance deductibles for businesses whose windows have been smashed. They also have posted notices in their bars about the consequences of breaking state drinking laws.
Karter attended the meeting because councilors were to consider a special amusement license renewal for his business. T&B’s Outback Tavern on Jefferson Street and Waterville Grand Hotel on Main Street also were considered for license renewal, but neither business is downtown.
Councilors decided to table consideration of the license renewals until their next meeting, Jan. 2, to give city officials time to discuss possibly placing conditions on licenses for businesses where problems have occurred.
Special amusement licenses, which are renewed annually, are required for businesses that have live entertainment such as a disc jockey, a band or dancing, and that serve alcohol at the same time, according to City Manager Michael Roy.
City Clerk Patti Dubois said when she was city clerk in Bangor, some businesses were required to provide outside security and limit their hours when noise complaints or other problems persisted.
In Portland’s popular Old Port, police Commander Gary Rogers said Wednesday that the Police Department deals nightly with problems outside bars and clubs.
The problems include fights, assaults, public urination, broken windows and other damaged property, he said.
In the 2010, a University of Maine at Farmington student, Eric Benson, 24, of Westbrook, died after he was hit once and fell to the ground during an incident there.
In the summer, additional officers are stationed in the area, he said.
“It absolutely does help,” he said, but added that it’s expensive.
When an establishment’s license is up for renewal, Portland police review it, and that includes checking the number of police calls to the business, Rogers said.
If a particular bar is not up to par with best practices and is not well-managed, police may object to renewing the license, he said. In some cases, licenses are not renewed, he added.
Police are involved in the process and monitor establishments throughout the year, he said. An important practice is for bars to stay connected with each other so that if a particular person causes a problem at one, another bar is notified, Rogers said.
The city also requires bars to pay an additional tax to cover the cost of additional police calls, he said.
Amy Calder — 861-9247