Thursday, April 26, 2018
Public safety

St. Petersburg city leaders to get first look at proposed bar security ordinances

ST. PETERSBURG — The city has talked about regulating downtown bar security for months.

Leaders could take the first concrete step today.

Mark Winn, the city's chief assistant attorney, will present City Council members with two draft ordinances during a committee meeting today.

Both ordinances would require bars or restaurants that want to stay open and serve alcohol past midnight to apply for a $100 permit. One of them would include specific requirements for downtown bars regarding the hiring of off-duty officers.

Winn said he hopes to get feedback from city leaders about which route they'd like to go.

"It was important to start somewhere," he said.

Some council members said they like what they've heard about the proposals.

"On its merits it sounds pretty good," said Bill Dudley, who chairs the public services and infrastructure committee, which will hear Winn's presentation. "It's something we need. There is a lot of money being made. If you want to be part of the night scene, then you need to pay your fair share. The city has been paying for it for a while. We need some help."

Police Chief Chuck Harmon said his agency is averaging about 300 overtime hours a month just for downtown security — at a cost of about $13,000 each month.

"Right now, taxpayers are paying for that," Harmon said. "We want people to be successful. We just want them to be responsible, too."

The issue about maintaining a safe downtown scene — and figuring out who should pay for it — has dogged the city ever since leaders extended bar hours to 3 a.m. a few years ago. A series of incidents, including a shooting, prompted more discussion.

In May, many of the stakeholders — including bar owners, police and city officials — met to talk. They planned to revisit the issue in July, with hopes of bringing something before the City Council. It was put on hold because of the Republican National Convention.

Winn's first draft ordinance is for an "extended hours permit," which would require businesses to get a $100 permit if they want to stay open past midnight and serve alcohol.

The second draft ordinance also called for an extended hours permit, but also lays out explicit requirements for downtown bars. Specifically, large establishments with more than 200 occupants will have to hire at least two off-duty officers on Fridays and Saturdays. If two or more large places are on the same block, they can share.

If a club had a big event on a day other than Friday or Saturday, they would have to hire the off-duty officers for that time.

A permit could be suspended for myriad reasons, including providing "inadequate" security on more than two occasions in a calendar year and having a violent incident.

Council member Charlie Gerdes said he favors the draft with the specifics about hiring officers.

"I think it's the responsible thing to do to take some of that burden off the taxpayers," Gerdes said.

Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, has helped bring bar owners and officials together. He said the permit concept is a good start, but that he's not sure how the mandatory hiring requirement would affect some businesses.

"I know that we have to strike a balance in this community," he said. "I'm hoping there'll be some great dialogue in the next few weeks."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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